Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline


Hearing loss becomes more prevalent as people age with approximately 50% of people aged 60-70 having hearing loss. Hearing loss rates increase to approximately 70% of those aged 70 and over, and 80% of those aged 80 and over . Dementia, and other forms of cognitive decline also occur at higher rates as people get older, with one in twelve people in Australia over the age of 65 living with some degree of dementia. Emerging research over recent decades has suggested that untreated hearing loss may contribute to cognitive decline and result in an increased risk of developing dementia.

How Does Hearing Loss cause Cognitive Decline?

Exactly how hearing loss and cognitive decline are linked is a complex and not yet fully understood process. Untreated hearing loss can have an array of effects on a person, including increased social isolation, mental health issues, and risk of falls. These consequences of hearing loss may lead to cognitive decline. There is also a theory that when a person can’t hear well, they use more of their brain power, or ‘cognitive load’, to process the information they hear. This then leaves less brain power, or cognitive resources, to complete other tasks such as comprehension and memory. The consequence of not having enough brainpower to carry out these other tasks is cognitive decline. It is also possible that a separate underlying pathology is causing both hearing loss and cognitive decline.

Does Everyone with Hearing Loss get Dementia?

However, it is important to know that everyone’s circumstances are unique and not everyone with hearing loss will develop dementia. What the studies show is that hearing loss increases the risk of developing dementia. If you are concerned you have hearing loss and that you may therefore have an increased risk of developing dementia or other cognitive issues, talk to your audiologist. Your audiologist at Soundfair Hearing Centre can discuss the risks for you based on your individual circumstances and provide you with strategies to reduce your risk.

What Can I Do to Reduce the Risk of Dementia if I Have Hearing Loss?

Further research has also shown that being fitted with hearing aids reduced the risk of developing dementia and other cognitive issues. The research indicates that hearing loss is the most significant modifiable risk factor for dementia – that is it is the most significant risk factor that a person has control to do something about. This means, in addition to all the other benefits hearing aids can offer, such as improved communication and social connection, hearing aids can also help reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia.

There is increasing evidence indicating that having hearing loss increases a person’s risk of developing dementia. While the mechanisms of this relationship are not fully understood, there is evidence to suggest that using hearing aids, if you have hearing loss, helps to reduce the risk of developing dementia. While the thought of developing dementia is scary, the positive about this risk factor is that something can be done about it in that people can be fitted with hearing aids to reduce their risk.

If you suspect you have hearing loss, getting a hearing assessment is a great place to start. Based on your assessment, our audiologists can work with you to determine whether hearing aids are appropriate for you. So, contact Soundfair Hearing Centre on 1300 242 842 or email us at info@soundfair.org.au to make an appointment.