Is There a Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?

By Katherine Bouton

A developing body of research has found connections between hearing loss and dementia, and a new book explores this from a first person perspective. “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I—and 50 Million Other Americans—Can’t Hear You” chronicles a former newspaper editor’s experience with hearing loss over a period of 20 years.

Katherine Bouton, an editor at The New York Times, couldn’t hear what her colleagues were saying at daily editorial meetings. She had gone profoundly deaf in her left ear; her right was getting worse. Today, she wears a cochlear implant and a hearing aid.

“I wrote the book because I think people do not understand what so many people in the United States, and around the world for that matter, what their life is like on a daily basis. Serious hearing loss — it’s something you can’t just try it out for yourself. You can’t put earmuffs on and go outside and see what it’s like because it’s not just that you can’t hear, it’s that what you do hear is distorted,” Bouton said recently in a New York Times interview.

An estimated 17 percent of Americans suffer some degree of hearing loss. The research Bouton explores in her book looks at the association between hearing loss and dementia. Scientists have three theories:

  1. People with hearing loss isolate themselves, and social isolation can contribute to dementia.
  2. Those with hearing loss have more difficulty absorbing information because they strain so much to hear what people are saying.
  3. There may be a physical link between hearing loss and dementia.

The primary researcher in this space, Dr. Frank Lin, is currently conducting a longitudinal study to measure the cognitive abilities and social functioning of older adults with hearing loss.

This research has potentially great implications for the way doctors treat hearing loss and the way seniors choose to age in place.

“If these studies between hearing loss and dementia turn out to be accurate,” Bouton says, “as we get older that means a really considerable number of people having earlier and more serious dementia, which is — it’s bad for them, but it’s a huge cost factor in terms of public health.”

Shouting Won’t Help,” by Katherine Bouton, will be released February 19th.


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