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  • chapmanwaugh


Helen Keller once said that ‘blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people’. Powerful words from one of the strongest and most determined people of the 20th century.

People, or rather our conversations, discussions, gossips, dialogues, talks, exchanges or whatever we call them are all bringing us closer together. These conversational bonds are part of human social grooming and without them we can create distance between those around us. Being disconnected from our friends and loved ones is one of the most diluting events a person can experience but being physically present, and not actively engaging in the conversation is detrimental to both the person with hearing loss and those involved in the conversation.

Hearing loss and dementia can often occur together, especially as we age, and have an impact on each other. We know they are linked in several ways, but we don’t know exactly how yet. As research continues in this area there is, however, strong evidence to show that:

· mild hearing loss doubles the risk of developing dementia

· moderate hearing loss leads to three times the risk

· severe hearing loss increases the risk five times

Can steps be taken to reduce or avoid this risk?

An international review in medical journal The Lancet, published in 2017, (follow up review in 2021), suggested that hearing loss is one of nine key risk factors for dementia that are possibly modifiable (factors that can be changed to reduce dementia risk).

Unaddressed hearing loss in mid-life was predicted to be the highest potentially modifiable risk factor for developing dementia. It is potentially responsible for 9% of all cases (RNID, 2017).

Hearing loss can sometimes be misdiagnosed as dementia. People with dementia can have difficulty communicating with others including finding the right words, or signs, for what they want to say. They may have difficulty processing what they’ve heard, particularly if there are distractions. According to some researchers, this difficulty in processing information (when there is competing information) can be one of the first signs of cognitive impairment.

We also know that hearing loss can speed up the onset of dementia, or make the symptoms of dementia appear worse, and dementia can heighten the impact of hearing loss. Hearing loss can lead to communication difficulties, social isolation, emotional distress and can significantly and adversely, impact a person’s quality of life. This appears to affect not only the person with hearing loss but also those around them such as their partners, family and others.

Are hearing aids a cure?

Let’s be straight here………, hearing aids are not a cure for dementia; indeed, the evidence is not yet in to say how much they can help a person living with dementia. However, there is significant evidence to support that wearing hearing aids can help improve our social awareness, enhance social engagement and help re-engage a person back into the lives of those around them.

Maybe we know a person who would have actively joined in with conversation, had so much to say, would share a joke or at least laugh at the punchline but is now unable to do so. Instead, they find themselves looking around to see if the social cues say they should be laughing right now or guessing where a ‘no’ or ‘yes’ should be. In this situation, addressing the hearing loss will certainly help to re-engage the person and thus should go some way to improving their quality of life.

So don’t suffer in silence, help is out there and until a cure is developed then we should do all we can to support those we care about including identifying and addressing hearing loss.

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