As described in a 2011 paper by Dr. Lin from John Hopkins School of Medicine, a relation has been established between hearing loss and dementia. Longitudinal research showed that people with mild, moderate and severe hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia, with the risk of dementia developing increasing as the degree of hearing loss increased. A person with severe hearing loss was found to be 5 times more likely to develop dementia than someone with normal hearing. Even someone with mild hearing loss is twice as likely to develop dementia as compared to someone with normal hearing. The researchers found that even ruling out other factors such as age, diabetes or high blood pressure, this correlation was still true.

There are several different possible reasons for this relationship. Social isolation is already a known risk factor for dementia that often comes along with hearing loss as well. Studies have shown that even people with a mild hearing loss will start to experience increasing levels of isolation. People with hearing loss often find they are struggling to hear and spend more energy following conversations and understanding what was said than people with normal hearing.

Delaying the onset of dementia by even one year could decrease the prevalence of dementia by an estimated 15% in the future. This could be billions of dollars in health care savings, since it is also estimated that by the year 2030, 1 in 30 Americans will have dementia.

Hearing aids do not restore hearing to normal levels, but they may play a role in delaying the onset of dementia by making it easier to hear conversation and environmental sounds. By not having to work as hard to hear a conversation, you would have more available cognitive power to understand and remember.

The way in which hearing aids are utilized is also important. A person with hearing aids will only achieve maximum benefit from them with consistent use. Periodic visits to an audiologist are also necessary for adjustments and for reprogramming. Additional assistive devices or technologies may be necessary for some people who have difficulties in specific situations, such as in the presence of noise.

For further reading, as featured in the New York Times on February 11, 2013.