Hearing Loss and Dementia: What's the Link?

How Untreated Hearing Loss Can Lead to Cognitive Decline
Last update on Dec, 29, 2023

According to the Alzheimer's Association, around 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and above are living with Alzheimer's disease. Seventy-five percent of them are aged 75 or older.

  • Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that is characterized by a progressive loss of cognitive function.
  • Dementia is a general term for a decline in cognitive function that affects memory, thinking, and behavior.

Because we know that age is a risk factor for dementia, it's common for people to associate cognitive decline with the natural aging process. However, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that untreated hearing loss increases a person's risk of developing dementia.

In this article, we'll discuss the latest research on the connection between hearing loss and dementia, the costs (both financial and emotional) of untreated hearing loss, and the benefits of regular hearing screenings and treatments in reducing the risk of cognitive decline.

Dementia and Hearing Loss: What You Need To Know

In a 2014 study led by Johns Hopkins expert Frank R. Lin, MD, Ph.D., results concluded that hearing loss is a known risk factor in an estimated 36% of U.S. dementia cases.

In another study, Dr. Lin uncovered that:

  • Mild hearing loss doubled an adult’s dementia risk.
  • Moderate hearing loss tripled the dementia risk.
  • Severe hearing loss increased the dementia risk five-fold.

In 2019, researchers at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center showed that 15-decibel loss—a very mild hearing loss—increased an older adult’s risk of “clinically meaningful” cognitive decline.

Later in 2020, The Lancet Commission reported on a University College London (UCL) study, which found that untreated hearing loss in midlife is the single largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia.

A more recent study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health revealed that while older adults with severe hearing loss were more likely to have dementia, the likelihood of dementia was lower among hearing aid users compared to non-users.

From this research, it's difficult to ignore the clear connection between hearing loss and dementia, as even mild hearing loss (i.e., less than 26 dB HL) can result in cognitive decline.

Understanding Untreated Hearing Loss

Untreated hearing loss is an all-too-common phenomenon where an individual experiences difficulty hearing sounds and understanding speech but does not seek or receive treatment for hearing loss.

This can happen due to a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Denial: "My hearing loss isn't that bad."
  • Social stigmas: "Hearing loss is a normal part of aging" or "I don't want people to know I have a hearing aid."
  • Financial constraints: "Hearing aids are too expensive."
  • No hearing health benefits: "My health plan doesn't cover hearing screenings or hearing aids."

You or someone you care about may already be experiencing age-related hearing loss. Although it's not something you want to think about, it's important to remember that this condition can lead to several health issues, including difficulty communicating with others, social isolation, falls, and even cognitive decline, such as dementia. 

How Does Hearing Loss Cause Cognitive Decline?

There’s no clear-cut answer to the question of why hearing loss increases our risk of cognitive decline and dementia. However, there are a few theories:

Social Isolation

People with hearing loss tend to avoid social situations, especially when background noise makes it too difficult to communicate.

Social isolation causes loneliness, which is a known risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. A study by researchers at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, for example, found that lonely individuals may be twice as likely to develop the type of dementia linked to Alzheimer’s disease as those who are not lonely.

Cognitive Overload

One possibility is that the brain of someone with hearing loss may undergo "cognitive load." Simply put, when our brain is stressed due to constantly straining to understand speech and other sounds, it uses resources that would otherwise be available for different functions, such as learning and memory.

Missed Sounds

Auditory deprivation is a condition that occurs when a person's hearing loss goes untreated for an extended period. It can result from the brain no longer receiving sound signals, leading to losing the ability to process sound over time.

If left untreated, the parts of the brain responsible for hearing may be "reassigned" to other tasks, causing them to shrink and atrophy. Those with hearing loss lose an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared to those with normal hearing. Auditory deprivation can affect individuals with any level of hearing loss, not just those with severe loss. 

The Costs of Untreated Hearing Loss

Beyond physical challenges, untreated hearing loss can cause emotional and financial burdens that affect you or someone you love's quality of life.

Emotional Impact

Hearing loss can have serious consequences, including social isolation and depression. As the condition worsens, it can become increasingly difficult for you to communicate with friends and family, hear your grandkids tell you what they learned in school, or listen to your favorite music or sounds.

Loved ones with untreated hearing loss may also experience a loss of independence, as they may need to rely on others to help them communicate or navigate their environment. As a result, they may feel helpless due to a loss of control over their lives.

Hearing loss can also affect your work life and career opportunities. It can become difficult to hear conversations in meetings, follow instructions, or communicate with colleagues, leading to increased stress and depression. 

Financial Impact

Besides the personal toll, hearing loss and dementia come with an enormous economic burden. For example, those with hearing loss may experience reduced earning potential due to communication difficulties in the workplace, as well as increased healthcare costs due to falls, hospitalizations, and other health issues that can arise from untreated hearing loss.

Additionally, individuals with hearing loss tend to seek preventive care less frequently or delay pursuing medical attention until their health conditions worsen. Individuals may also find it challenging to adhere to medication or treatment instructions, leading to further delays in receiving the necessary care.

Isolated senior woman

DID YOU KNOW that in 2023, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias totaled an estimated $345 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. They project that this cost will rise to $1

Early Interventions and Regular Screenings Are Key

Regular hearing screenings and interventions can play an essential role in reducing the risk of dementia associated with untreated hearing loss.

Early detection can help individuals with hearing loss receive the necessary treatment to improve their hearing. This, in turn, can reduce the cognitive load on the brain, prevent social isolation, and improve overall quality of life. 

Hearing Aids

Hearing aids can help you hear better, communicate more effectively, and engage in social activities. A new study has shown that using hearing aids can improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of developing dementia. 

Cochlear Implants

Another intervention is cochlear implants, which are electronic devices surgically implanted in the ear to help stimulate the auditory nerve and provide sound to individuals with severe or profound hearing loss.

Unlike hearing aids, cochlear implants do not amplify sound, but rather bypass the damaged parts of the inner ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve to send signals to the brain. This allows people with severe hearing loss to perceive sounds and speech more clearly, and can greatly improve their ability to communicate and interact with the world around them. 

Regular Hearing Screenings

Regular hearing screenings can also help identify hearing loss early on so appropriate interventions can be implemented before the condition worsens.

Better Hearing Health Care Is the Solution

Hearing healthcare is critical in ensuring that you have access to hearing screenings and treatments for hearing loss.

Untreated hearing loss can lead to serious health issues, including an increased risk of dementia. Hearing health care should be more accessible and affordable to everyone, especially older adults.

So, What Are Your Options?

As science continues to reinforce the link between hearing loss and dementia, a growing number of Medicare Advantage and other health plans are offering their members a hearing benefit.

It's possible that you might not have complete information about the benefits you currently have, or you might be concerned that you will have out-of-pocket expenses for hearing aids and related services. Hearing health care can be complicated, but there is a better way to better understand your benefits.

Amplifon Can Help

Amplifon Hearing Health Care is dedicated to making hearing health care understandable, accessible, and flexible for you and your loved ones.

We recognize the significance of early detection and treatment of hearing loss, and we strive to help you minimize the impact of untreated hearing loss and dementia. We provide all the necessary education and resources you need to move forward in your journey.

More Options for Hearing Aid Brands

We make hearing health care more accessible by providing a wide variety of hearing aid brands that cater to your unique needs and preferences. This ensures people with varying budgets can find hearing aids that suit their requirements and lifestyle needs.

Wide Provider Network

We provide a large network of hearing care providers (nearly 6,000 network locations), which enables you to easily find a reputable clinic in your area.

In addition, we can help you prepare for your initial appointment by providing information about your benefits and hearing health, including:

  • Coverage for hearing services and products
  • A free online hearing test
  • Guidance on what to expect at your visit
  • Questions to ask during your first appointment

Member Education and Resources

To help you understand hearing healthcare, our website offers resources and tools to learn about the impact of hearing loss and benefits and the latest advancements in hearing aids.

Our top priority is helping you maximize your hearing care benefits, which is why we offer a Check Your Benefits tool to ensure you're taking full advantage of coverage options.

Better Hearing Benefits

Finally, because we recognize that not all members have the same needs, we partner with health plans to provide more flexible options for hearing benefits that consider these differences.


To achieve this, we work closely with your health plan to design custom hearing health care solutions that include:

  • Hearing evaluations
  • Personalized hearing aid fittings
  • Ongoing maintenance and support
  • Access to the latest technologies and devices

We believe that through collaboration with health plans and hearing care providers, we can play a significant role in revolutionizing hearing health care services for members.

Our goal is to provide you with the best resources, tools, and support so you can enjoy better hearing and a better quality of life. 

Couple smiling

Ready to Check Your Benefits?

Hearing loss and dementia pose a significant threat to your health, but you can be proactive about your hearing health journey. Take advantage of our Check Your Benefits tool to learn about your coverage options and the hearing care services you're eligible for. Our team will reach out to you to answer questions, provide helpful resources, and give the support you need!

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