If you find yourself having difficulty following conversations or issues with memory and thinking skills, you may want to get your hearing checked. Age-related hearing loss may be linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline. Several large studies have shown that people who have a degree of hearing loss, even in midlife, have an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.
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Dr. Ronald Petersen, a neurologist and director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, says the exact reason why there's an increased risk is not known.
"It could be that there are actually effects on the brain. Some studies have been shown that if people have a hearing loss over many years, certain parts of the brain, in particular the temporal lobe involved in hearing, but also involved in language and memory, may actually be smaller," says Dr. Petersen.
It also could be that hearing loss leads to social isolation, which can lead to an increased risk in dementia.
Dr. Petersen recommends getting your hearing assessed every two to three years, especially if you're noticing signs that your hearing may be deteriorating. Signs that hearing loss may be evolving include difficulty hearing conversations, especially in crowded rooms, and asking others to repeat themselves frequently.
The fix could be as simple as needing to get earwax removed.
"If in fact a hearing loss is detected that is more than what we would expect for aging, you could get a hearing device — a hearing aid or cochlear implant. There are treatable entities, such that hearing loss need not be normal, and hearing loss need not be a normal event in aging," says Dr. Petersen.
"We think that if a person improves one's ability to hear that their cognitive loss — if it's related to that — might in fact slow over time," says Dr. Petersen.
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