The connection between hearing loss and dementia: Minnesota audiologist explains

Hands holding a hearing aid
A patient holds her hearing aid as she visits Hear Again America for a checkup on Oct. 20, 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images 2021

A recent study published in The Lancet found that hearing aids may reduce the risk of developing dementia for older people by nearly 50 percent, adding to a growing body of research on the issue.

Minnesota audiologist Jasmine Bensen, who was a guest on Morning Edition, said that since hearing loss is gradual, many people don’t notice it right away. And less noise — ranging from background sounds like a refrigerator running to trouble hearing conversations — means less regular brain stimulation.

This combination leads to mental deterioration, similar to muscles atrophying when they’re not used.

“When I first even started my graduate program, it was something that I didn’t think about, but every single professor talked about it in their own ways,” Bensen said. “One of them that really stuck with me was mentioning when you come home from work, and you don’t have enough energy to even do the dishes because of how much effort you put into your listening and having conversations … that isn’t stimulating your brain like you used to and it just leads to more and more cognitive decline, social isolation and depression.”

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Bensen said hearing checkups are just as important as a visit to the dentist, optometrist or primary care provider. She recommended working with your insurance company to find a local audiologist or clinic.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get hearing aids, but at least you can take the first step, you can get a baseline of your hearing, make sure your brain is functioning like it should,” she said.

The results can often be emotional for patients.

“I had a woman come in with her mother … and you could tell there was a little bit of cognitive decline. You could tell she was asking a few questions multiple times,” Bensen said. “We got her hearing aids that really work and her daughter, when they had a follow-up appointment … was like almost in tears telling me how much brighter her mother seemed.”