Ask Dr. Darrow
How Are Hearing Loss and Dementia Related?
It (hearing loss) not only increases age-related memory loss, it increases the incidents of Alzheimer’s disease so if you can prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or delay it with good hearing devices that’s a major public health advance.
Quote by Erik Kandel, Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Hearing Loss impacts over 48 Million people in the U.S. and is listed by the Department of Health and Human Services as the 3rd most common chronic disorder affecting today’s seniors. Unfortunately, for most of us, age-related hearing loss is inevitable; impacting nearly 50% of seniors between the ages of 60-70, almost 2/3rd of people between the age of 70-80, and nearly 80% of individuals over the age of 80. Age-related hearing loss is characterized by the progressive loss of receptor (hair) cells in the ear, that consequently reduces the quantity, and quality, of neural connections from the ear to the brain. This slow-onset disease can have a significant impact on several key brain areas, including the memory, hearing, speech and language portions of cognition. Several key research studies have pointed to the potential links of hearing loss and dementia, including the groundbreaking work from Dr. Lin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins Medical Center that indicate hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia by 200-500% (see summary data in Figure 1).
Every 3-4 seconds another patient is diagnosed with dementia. Rates of dementia are estimated to triple in the next 30 years. Unlike some other diseases, with dementia, the physical body is estimated to outlive the individual’s mental capabilities by 10 or more years. There is no cure for this catastrophic disease, but there are treatments available, including several ways to decrease your risk of developing dementia.
Recent research has found that hearing loss can increase the risk of developing dementia by 200-500%. This report, from researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and the National Institute on Aging, found that individuals with hearing loss (when compared to participants with normal hearing) are at a significantly higher risk of developing dementia over time. The more hearing loss they had, the higher their likelihood of developing the memory-robbing disease. “A lot of people ignore hearing loss because it’s such a slow and insidious process as we age,” Dr. Frank Lin (of Johns Hopkins Medical Center) says. “Even if people feel as if they are not affected, we’re showing that it may well be a more serious problem.”
Three risk factors associated with hearing loss and dementia include Social Isolation, Cerebral Atrophy, and Cognitive Overload.
- Social Isolation – The Impact of reduced social and physical activity. Withdrawal from social situations is common in individuals with hearing loss. Many studies cite feelings of embarrassment, fear of making mistakes in conversations, and feeling like you are not part of the conversation as the common rationale for individuals with hearing impairment to separate themselves from family, friends, and community. This retreat from social activity has even been found in individuals with a mild degree of hearing loss. In addition, individuals with hearing loss are less likely to engage in physical activity. Both increased social isolation and reduced physical activity are strong risk factors for the development of dementia.
- Cerebral Atrophy (aka Brain Shrinkage) The association of a shrinking brain, resulting from the loss of neurons, with dementia, has been long documented. Even people with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) show signs of cerebral atrophy. In recent years, scientific studies using advanced brain imaging techniques (including fMRI – Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) have demonstrated that hearing impairment is associated with accelerated brain atrophy in both the overall brain, as well as even more advanced reductions in volume associated with the memory, hearing, speech, and language portions of the brain.
- Cognitive Overload (i.e. Working Your Brain Too Hard To Hear) Hearing loss is not normal, and neither is the excess strain that is put on your brain. While hearing loss may be more common as we age, it is critical that hearing loss be treated. With hearing loss, the brain is constantly on ‘overload’ trying to fill in the missing pieces and follow the conversation. An increased cognitive load is considered a risk factor for developing Dementia. Cognitive load, as measured by pupillometry, is a measurement of how hard your brain is working to follow a conversation. Recent research has found that individuals who treat their hearing loss do not work as hard to listen (i.e. have a reduced cognitive load) and have as much as a 20% increase in memory recall when following a conversation.
What is NeuroTechnology™?
NeuroTechnology™ is designed to treat hearing loss by using complex stimulation patterns to help replace the diminished auditory input to the brain. Traditional hearing aids just make things louder, but with today’s new NeuroTechnology™ treatment options you can hear more clearly and more naturally, in all listening environments – even in noisy restaurants!
Today’s NeuroTechnology™ hearing aids include the following features:
- Enhanced Clarity – to help fill in the missing speech details
- Noise-Cancellation Features – to help filter speech in noisy environments
- Soft-Speech Booster – to help you hear the ‘soft-speakers’ in your life (i.e. children and grandchildren, your spouse)
- Surround Sound Features
- Bluetooth connectivity to your smart devices
How Do Neurotechnology™ Hearing Aids Work?
There are different types of NeuroTechnology™ – each custom designed and programmed to meet your hearing loss, and your hearing needs, but they all ultimately perform the same function: to help you hear more clearly, and more naturally.
We hear with our BRAINS, not with our ears. Today’s NeuroTechnology™ is the only proven hearing loss treatment options with a focus on enhancing brain function by providing enhanced clarity surround-sound with background-noise canceling features.
NeuroTechnology™ can be used to address the full spectrum of hearing difficulties, from people with audiometric ‘normal hearing’ to individuals with severe to profound hearing loss.
What Are The Different Types Of Neurotechnology™ Hearing Aids?
NeuroTechnology™ comes in several ‘shapes and sizes’, including some invisible options for maximum discreteness. The hearing healthcare provider will review your treatment options based on your specific hearing loss and hearing needs. Regardless of which treatment option is right for you, whether you’re out to dinner with friends, hitting the beach, meeting with clients, or hiking, you’ll be able to hear what matters most with today’s hearing loss technology.
SEVERAL FEATURES AVAILABLE INCLUDE:
Invisible Treatment Options: Once placed in your ear, it’s hassle-free so that you may even forget you’re wearing the device! And that’s the point. Hearing loss shouldn’t hold you back, and neither should your hearing solution. Features in today’s invisible technology options include:
- An invisible and custom fit device that fits deep inside your ear canal and are personally customized to you for all-day comfort
- Easily adapt to new sounds with automatic volume control and adaptation to listening environment
- Wireless streaming to your smartphone and/or to keep you connected to your TV, music and other media
- Sound comfort technology designed to provide distortion-free listening comfort for loud sounds while ensuring ultimate
Mini ‘Receiver In The Ear’ Options: Groundbreaking NeuroTechnology™ is fast and precise enough to analyze and follow the dynamics of the entire auditory environment, and differentiate between speech and background noise. Advances in miniaturization of technology have led to the breakthrough of new NeuroTechnology™ proven to support brain function, including working memory, selective attention and processing speed (The Hearing Review: Dr. Desjardin, University of Texas, El Paso). These new devices have 3 features designed specifically to maintain the brain’s innate ability to hear in all different listening situations:
- Clear Hearing In Background Noise: By separating important speech from background noise by as much as 10dB, this new technology provides 30% better speech understanding and clarity in noise
- Enhanced Clarity: Enhanced Memory Recall. Individuals with hearing loss are known to have reduced memory recall because the Brain is deprived of a clear signal. With 20% more capacity to remember, this technology is the only available option proven to increase memory recall
- Reduced Effort: Many of my patients explain that hearing requires effort as they age and that it can make them tired after a day at work or with the grandchildren. Currently, available technology is proven to provide a 20% reduction in listening effort in noisy environments
In addition, some options include Bluetooth and Internet compatible options that enable:
- Hands-free wireless (surround sound) hearing on the phone
- Low-Battery reminders – Devices can remind you by ear, phone, text or email that your batteries (or your spouse’s batteries) are low
- Wireless compatibility with any TV to enhance the clarity of the signal
- Allows for control of your Internet-connected devices at home including the thermostat, lights, and even certain cooking appliances (i.e. yes, your hearing devices can automatically turn on your coffee maker each morning)
How Do I Take Care of My NeuroTechnology™ Hearing Aid?
Take Care of Your Neurotechnology™ and It Will Take Care Of You:
Regular maintenance and care of your Neurotechnology™ is critical to the success of the devices and for success in treating your hearing loss.
- Daily Care – Be sure to use the provided lint-free cloth to wipe down your technology at the end of each day. This regiment will insure that oils from the skin, cerumen (ear wax), dandruff, etc., will not build on the unit and prevent proper stimulation of the auditory system. You may also find that the provided pick/brush can be helpful at removing cerumen embedded in the domes
- Weekly Maintenance – Your Neurotechnology™ must be provided an ample supply of power to run properly. Your batteries will be expected to last between 4-7 days, depending on your use, connectivity to devices (i.e. Bluetooth connectivity to your phone, tablet, home TV,) etc. When you hear the audible battery warning tone, be sure to change batteries in both units at the same time. For those patients with rechargeable batteries, be sure to properly place the units in the charging station every evening to obtain a full charge
- Monthly Care – It is important that both the domes and the wax filters be changed on a monthly basis (it is possible that for some patients this is done on a more regular basis depending on the amount of cerumen build-up). Domes: The dome on your NeuroTechnology™ speaker plays a critical role in the acoustic performance of your units and is specifically calculated into the prescriptive acoustic settings. Wax Baskets: These filters have been specifically designed to prevent cerumen from entering the speaker and causing damage to the units. As cerumen builds in the basket, it can intermittently (or permanently) prevent sound stimulation from the units
NOTE: In the rare case that your NeuroTechnology is malfunctioning and not providing ample stimulation please follow these 2 steps before calling the office: 1) change the batteries, and 2) change the wax basket. These are the cause of 98% of all hearing aid emergency appointments and can help save you time and travel! As always, you are welcome to call the office if you are uncomfortable with either of these and would like help.
How Do I Pay for Hearing Treatment?
Once you are comfortable and you know specifically which specialist you want to treat you, your spouse, your parent or another family member, the next question typically is, “How much is this going to cost and how am I going to pay for this?”
I have always believed that the patient needs options to help them invest in proper hearing health care. A reputable practice understands that for some people the upfront investment in hearing healthcare can be prohibitive. Patients must be provided with options.
Our hearing aid centers offer various financing options with flexible payment plans (some with 0% interest for 1 year, or even a long-term payment plan with fixed interest terms). We also offer Silver, Gold, and Platinum treatment plans with varying benefits – ask for more information at your complimentary consultation!
When is the Best Time to Start Hearing Treatment?
Simple answer: if you are over 50 you should have your hearing evaluated. And if it is determined that you have a hearing loss, early treatment is the key to success with Neurotechnology™.
A More Detailed Answer: I always stress the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss to each of my patients.
The American Speech Language Hearing Association, the American Academy of Audiology, and the American Medical Association have all considered the recommendation of including ‘hearing evaluation / screening’ between the age of 50-60 years young. I often use the catch phrase ‘Ears and Rears’ as my way of getting people to remember to have their hearing checked when they turn 50 (and of course, have a colonoscopy too!).
Similar to going to your primary care physician every year, obtaining a baseline hearing test can help to better serve you and your clinician to guide the medical recommendation at current or future appointments. Obtaining a baseline of normal hearing never hurt anyone!
Regardless of age, if you are noticing any of the symptoms of hearing loss, e.g. difficulty hearing in noisy situations, difficulty hearing the TV (compared to others), if your family is suggesting you get a hearing test, or if you have ringing in your ears (defined as Tinnitus).
Unfortunately waiting too long can significantly impact the expectations and outcome of treatment, and sadly every Audiologist I know has a patient they have had to tell they waited too long and the benefits of treatment will be minimal.
As one of the premier hearing aid centers in Hilo, Kailua, and Kona, HI, our team at Family Hearing Center also provides 5-star-rated hearing care to patients from Kahului, Honolulu, Pearl City, Kaneohe & Kahala, HI, and surrounding areas.