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Cognitive Health and Hearing Loss

What's the connection between cognitive health and hearing loss? How can hearing loss lead to dementia and Alzheimer's? And learn about the Cognivue cognitive screening test that we offer.



Cognitive health and hearing loss. That's today's topic on Ask The Hearing Doctors.

Hi, I'm Jim Cuddy. And this is Ask The Hearing Doctors. And today I'm joined by Dr. Ana Anzola, Dr. Wendy Thorne, doctors of audiology with Hearing Doctors, the Washington DC Area's highest rated audiology practice with over 1,500 five-star reviews. Ana, Wendy, great to see you both as always. Of course, um, cognitive problems. What, what are some of the warning signs of cognitive problems? 

Confusion, short-term memory, even long-term memory issues. Yeah. Uh, forgetting your train of thought and just a forgetfulness.

Let's talk facts and stats. Millions of Americans, like something like 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. 5.7 million Americans are living with dementia. What's the correlation there?

So they have, um, this was a study that came out of Johns Hopkins University a couple of years ago, um, where they have found a link between hearing loss, whether it's mild, all the way up to severe and, uh, dementia.

Individuals with untreated hearing loss, they haven't done anything about it. They haven't come to see you... Are they at risk of developing some of these cognitive problems because of the hearing loss? 

Sure. So, um, they, we know through the research that if you have a mild hearing loss, you're twice as likely to possibly develop dementia. If you have a moderate you're three times as likely, and with severe it's five times as likely. 

Wow, that's pretty, I mean, that's substantial. How, or, or maybe why does hearing loss change the brain? 

What they think is happening is that if you have hearing loss, there's portions of your brain that are not being stimulated. Um, so the brain begins to physically shrink in those areas, or those neurons just rewire for some other tasks or just completely stop working altogether. 

So how prevalent is dementia for people with untreated hearing loss? I mean, does it vary from person to person as far as how bad one or the other can be, and how bad it makes one or the other? 

Yeah. So we talk about untreated hearing loss and trying to do it, um, sooner than later, because it's almost like if you don't use it, you end up losing it. 

How do hearing aids help? 

Yeah. So it's the auditory stimulation to the brain exercising, um, in trying to rewire that ability to go between the ear and the brain. 

What are the steps? Obviously, I never would have thought that dementia would have been something we'd be talking about when we're talking about hearing loss. Obviously it's a big part of it. And the studies are showing that more and more. What are some steps people can take to minimize, or even at least slow down oncoming dementia. 

So the biggest thing that we always talk about is treating your hearing loss early. So don't wait until it's gotten too severe. So even if you have a slight or mild hearing loss, it's best to do something about it at that time and not wait for your brain to decline over time.

Are there lifestyle choices, things like that, that, that, that people might want to consider to, to sort of help avoid these situations. 

Um, yeah. Healthy habits, exercise, diet, you know, keeping up with, you know, healthy habits is really something that we talk about all the time. Yeah. That's always good to do like, you know, brain teasers, puzzles. That's always good exercise for your brain as well. 

I'm a nut for crossword puzzles, all the time. It's just constantly and not out of concern for that, but I'm glad I'm getting a little extra exercise though. So that's good.

And there's so many apps that they're available for free, like Hear Coach, you know, um, so just, uh, take advantage of them. There's a lot of, um, intelligent, you know, apps out there that can actually help you retrain the brain to get the most out of it.

Wow. The technology is just fascinating and you've shown us plenty of technology around here that you guys take advantage of. I mean, it's, it's amazing that people walk around with these hearing deficiencies and they really don't need to. Can someone mistake cognitive decline for hearing loss or vice versa? 

Sure, absolutely. And I we've seen that a lot of times where someone comes in and they are quiet, maybe a little withdrawn and their loved one is concerned that maybe they're not, you know, communicating or they have some sort of deficit. We put hearing aids on them and it's like, the lights have turned on. And it's just because if you're not getting that sound around you, you start to kind of step back and withdraw and not connect with people. 

Let's um, I'll put myself in the, kind of in the seat. I I'm experiencing some of these warning signs that we've talked about. Okay. How important is it for me to consider the screening that's necessary to, to figure out exactly what is it, just a hearing loss? Is it, is it something worse than that? 

Well, for sure let's get a baseline, which we did in the past. Um, getting a baseline will definitely determine whether or not there's a hearing deficit that would validate your concerns. Or now we have a fantastic tool out there that's called the Cognivue. And it's just a great screening tool that would give us the measurements. So we can tell you, and for you to communicate with your family, doctor or neurologist, if there are any other issues to be concerned about. You know, how is your cognitive health, which is very important. 

Yeah. Now when you were talking baseline, so that's first things first, just a basic hearing test. And then, and then you kind of go from there and figure out what's next. Okay!

Cognivue. I'm very interested in the Cognivue. I would love, as I have been in the past, to be a Guinea pig for you. If, if, if you're open to that.

All right. Fantastic. 

Okay. So the process is very simple. The Cognivue is a screening tool, that is very simple, um, to use and to visualize. Uh, you will sit in front of a laptop type of computer. Um, it comes with, uh, uh, about two minutes instructional video where you're explained exactly what you are going to be doing. There's six portions of it. And you just take a scrolling type of wheel. Where are you going to be moving it according to the question, very simple. So the screening allows us to identify areas of concern that could be indicative of cognitive impairment. Those may be things like memory, visual-spatial, executive function, reaction time, and speed processing, which are all related to how we all process information in the brain. 

All right. So that Cognivue screening machine, I'm very happy with my performance as nervous as I was going in, but is that the kind of thing I can go to a drugstore the way I can go get my blood pressure tested at a drugstore. Could I do that? 

No, no, no, not at all. No. We have it available in all of our offices for all of our patients to take advantage of it. But we're the only ones in the Washington metropolitan area who offer this.

And can anybody just come into the office and say, Hey, I'd like to take this test. 

Yeah. Anybody, they don't have to have hearing aids from us. They don't have to be a patient right away with us. Anybody can have it. Yeah. Even family members take advantage of it. So it's really wonderful. It's a wellness tool and this is the kind of approach that we have with our patients. It's not just about the ears. Is that wellness approach that we take towards health. 

I highly recommend it. Um, it was, it was easier than I thought it would be. And, um, I feel really good about my results. Thank you both. Thank you. If you're in the Washington metropolitan area and you'd like to schedule an appointment with Hearing Doctors, click the link in the description or visit

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