Hi, I’m Dr. Eric Cobb with Z-Health Performance and today we’re going to talk about hearing loss and dementia.
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Alright let’s get into this. As a brain-based company obviously we teach movement and pain and all kind of things and we look at all the sensory systems. We look at the eyes, we look at the ears, we look at the vestibular system, etc. However, there are bigger picture items that we always want to consider and whenever we look at something as important as hearing or hearing capacity, the question is “does a loss of that particular skill , that loss lets say have maybe long-standing or larger impacts?” And for the last probably 10 to 15 years we’ve seen a lot of conversations occurring around the idea that hearing loss can go hand in hand with the development or worsening of dementia.
Now, when I first heard this I thought okay well I can kind of come up with an idea of why that might happen but is the research going to prove that to be true? As of right, now we can pretty definitively say the answer is, “yes!” In fact, in many cases loss of hearing is considered one of the most important drivers of the development of dementia. So whenever we look at numbers right now we think that loss of hearing is associated with maybe eight to ten percent of all the dementia cases that are diagnosed worldwide. So this is an incredibly important topic that we need to be aware of and if we work with clients that either have occupational exposure that may cause them to lose hearing. They work around loud noises, you know equipment all the time. Maybe they’re in the military; they’re exposed to explosions. Occupational hearing loss is a very big deal particularly as it progresses over time. There’s obviously, as well in many cases we’ll see loss of hearing occurring with aging. So the question really. still is, “why would this happen?” And there are kind of three predominant theories, right now.
The first that we see very regularly when we do brain scans is that a loss of hearing over time is associated with actually a shrinking of brain matter. There’s a general loss of size and neuronal density in different areas of the brain, so that may be a direct connection then to some of the things that we’ll see with dementia.
The second thing is that whenever we are beginning to lose hearing we can begin to develop what’s called cognitive overload. In other words, if I’m struggling to hear and I’m in a social environment of moving around, I’m talking to people; the increased need for energy production in the body and in the brain to process what’s happening via the auditory system and then integrate that with everything else, can be somewhat overwhelming. And that over time may also drive some of the things that we’ll see that are related to, you know, dementia presentations like memory issues, etc.
And then third, one of the other kind of probably big environmental factors; is that as people lose any sensory capacity whether that’s vision, auditory, etc.; there is a tendency to become more socially isolated. We don’t want to interact with people so much because it’s a hassle and we do know that whenever we’re looking at progressive dementia issues that a loss of social interaction and intellectual stimulation through conversation communication can also play a role. So what’s the big takeaway from today’s blog? This is really a public service announcement. If you work with a population that may be experiencing hearing loss, it is vital to make a appropriate referral. Because again, if we think in the short term maybe not that big a deal but we are always trying to think both short-term and long-term when we’re working with clients. We want to make sure that we’re giving them information that can benefit them throughout the course of their life and a loss of hearing can be a relatively big deal for many people on the cognitive decline side, as well as some other things related to movement (which we will talk about in a future blog).
As far as what to do about this, if you are uncertain about the quality of your hearing in the last I think five or seven years or so we’ve seen a big burst of smartphone apps and online hearing tests becoming available. Many of these have been subjected to pretty intensive research comparisons to go, “how does a smartphone compare to a kind of a standard test that you would do with an audiologist?” And the smartphone apps have been pretty good. Now, what I can tell you is that a smartphone app or an online hearing test will not replace seeing an audiologist because there are going to be other things that they’re going to be able to test. But as a starting point if you were concerned, “how’s my hearing,” it might be worth taking the five or ten minutes needed to do an online hearing test or do something with a smartphone. And if that points out to you that there is a distinct difference between right side and left side hearing or an overall general decrease, absolutely get in to see someone who specializes in this field.
Alright, hope you found this helpful and interesting and I’ll be back soon to talk more about hearing loss in relationship to movement.