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Hearing and Dementia


I’ve known for years I wasn’t hearing well. While watching TV, I was continually asking, “What’d he say?” When challenged about the quality of my hearing, I would defensively respond that the background music is too loud and is masking the words, which is true and very annoying. Occasionally during a conversation, I would have to ask the speaker to repeat or clarify what I thought I heard. The above cartoon is spot on. My wife and I have had many a good laugh over some ridiculously off-the-wall response I would give her.


After years of prodding, I finally went for a hearing test and found out that I hear only low sounds in one ear and high sounds in the other. Faced with the facts, I decided to spend the money and rejoin the world of the hearing. I blame Vietnam, by the way, for my hearing loss.


Today’s hearing aids are not like the one my grandfather wore. He carried a battery in his shirt pocket which had two wires running from it to plugs in his ears. It was an ungainly set up, unattractive, and simply amplified all sounds. I also don’t think he liked it because he turned it off when things got too loud. Eventually, we stopped trying to include him.


His hearing aid was undoubtedly inexpensive and simply made everything louder. My hearing aids are expensive, highly sophisticated, all but invisible, self-charging, and adapt to the ambient sounds. After downloading the device’s app on my iPhone (a must), the wearer has four settings: General, Lecture, Music, and TV. There are other features such as a tinnitus setting.


In addition to the hearing aids, I purchased a TV Adaptor which streams the TV sounds directly into my ears. Somehow, it balances the background music with the speaking so I now hear everything clearly. The Music setting is also pure gold with clear and intense sound. I’ve never heard Tchaikovsky's “1812 Overture" with such clarity.

I researched the importance of hearing and made some startling discoveries. According to Dr. Wallace, at DoD’s Hearing Center of Excellence at

https://hearing.health.mil/Prevention/Importance-of-Hearing,


Quoting the author, “I discovered that hearing is essential for maintaining relationships and connections with friends and family, fully participating in common activities, and experiencing life’s events. Hearing makes it possible to engage, listen, laugh, hear the precious sounds of nature, and enjoy many of the things that help shape our quality of life.


“Loss of hearing can…lead to feelings of social isolation, depression, and chronic disease.” End quote


While researching hearing, I read this interesting personal family story by Dr. Yeh at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/good-hearing-essential-to-physical-and-emotional-well-being-2016102010480, by Charlotte S. Yeh, MD, Chief Medical Officer, AARP Services, Inc., October 20, 2016


“For many years, it was clear that my father was becoming hard of hearing. Normally gregarious and the life of the party, he became increasingly withdrawn because he couldn’t hear well enough to partake in conversations around the table. He began to walk with a shuffling gait. He was declining in front of my eyes. And yet, when we communicated by email, his intellectual curiosity and warm storytelling skills were intact. But in person, he seemed to be fading away.


“After considerable prodding, I convinced him to get a pair of custom hearing aids. The transformation was amazing. At a family reunion a month later, there was my father sitting at the breakfast table, regaling everybody with stories of his mischievous childhood. He was, once again, the center of attention. Gone was the shuffling walk, replaced by a strong, confident stride. From the withdrawn, quiet man who would sit by himself emerged my funny, animated father who told stories, laughed, and played jokes. He could hear his children and grandchildren. The dad I remembered as a child came back to us.


“This story, and so many just like it, are about changing the public conversation on hearing to show how people who experience hearing loss can move from fear and denial to aging gracefully, with resilience, joy, and health.


“Surprisingly, many of us wait seven to 10 years before even acknowledging we are having trouble hearing and get a hearing aid. Why? For some of us it’s denial, or fear of looking old; for others the hearing loss is so gradual we might not be aware of the insidious progression of it. In fact, more Americans report getting a colonoscopy than a hearing test!

“Yet, failing to get hearing tested and corrected early may actually contribute to aging faster. Hearing loss is associated with earlier onset of dementia, earlier mortality, and six times the rate of falls compared to those with normal hearing. Contributing to these negative health consequences is the isolation, the loss of interactive communication with others due to inability to hear clearly. This results in loneliness. Moreover, when the input is diminished, the brain loses the ability to distinguish sounds, which means having to “re-learn” to hear when she or he finally gets a hearing aid.” End quote


According to https://hearinghealthfoundation.org/seniors Our ears play an important and large role in our balance. One study that found that even a mild hearing loss means you are “three times more likely to have a history of falling.”


https://www.alzdiscovery.org/cognitive-vitality/blog/can-hearing-aids-help-prevent-dementia

April 25, 2019 by Betsy Mills, PhD talks about hearing loss and cognitive decline.


“Hearing loss is the third most common health condition affecting older adults, occurring in one-third of people over age 65 and in two-thirds of those over age 70


“Mild hearing loss is associated with two-fold greater risk for dementia, while severe hearing loss is associated with 5 times greater risk over 10 years. Several longitudinal studies have found that the rate of cognitive decline is accelerated in dementia patients with hearing loss. Participants with hearing loss experienced rates of cognitive decline that were 30-50% faster than those with normal hearing.


“Hearing loss may promote cognitive decline because when there is less auditory input, auditory centers in the brain begin to degenerate, and the brain struggles to compensate. This means that the brain needs to use more resources to process auditory information, so that there is less available to use for other functions, such as learning and memory.


“A separate imaging study where brain changes were tracked in 126 people for up to 10 years found that those with hearing impairment had accelerated rates of brain atrophy, including in areas involved in memory.


“It has not been established whether correcting hearing loss can significantly reverse or slow ongoing cognitive decline. It has not been confirmed that hearing loss is driving dementia risk, since it is also possible that people prone to dementia are at higher risk for hearing loss.” End quote


And the U.S. National Institute for Health says this about hearing and dementia at

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/hearing-loss-common-problem-older-adults, Nov 20, 2018


“Studies have shown that older adults with hearing loss have a greater risk of developing dementia than older adults with normal hearing. Cognitive abilities (including memory and concentration) decline faster in older adults with hearing loss than in older adults with normal hearing.” End quote


This poster is on the wall in my audiologist’s office:


Six months ago, I purchased Oticon Hearing Aids, which is one of several available brands, and I’m very pleased with it. Here’s what Oticon says about their product:


Oticon hearing aids are Made for iPhone devices and can easily pair with iPhone, iPad, and iPod, letting your hearing aids become wireless headphones for phone calls and streamed audio. You can also stream phone calls and media audio from…compatible Android devices.


Oticon offers the TV Adapter 3.0 which is a wireless transmitter of sound from a TV or other electronic audio devices that streams sound directly to your hearing aids. I really like this.


ConnectClip (shown below) pairs with your mobile phone, so you can use the hearing aids as a hands-free headset or as a remote microphone in noisy listening situations like restaurants. For example, your conversation partner simply wears the ConnectClip to pick up their voice and sends the sound to your hearing aids, bypassing background noise so you can hear the person more easily.

In my opinion, the benefits of my hearing aids far outweigh the cost, and it all starts with a simple hearing test.

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