The Impact of Hearing Loss On an Older Adult’s Cognition, Social Connection and Quality of Life

Lisa Fields
Added: 08.22.2022
5 minutes read
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by Lisa Fields

Has your parent with hearing loss stopped going out with friends? Many older adults who don’t hear well stop socializing because they can’t keep up with the conversation, and they’re ashamed to ask people to repeat themselves. Gradually, they may become lonely and isolated at home, which may lead to depression or cognitive changes.

“It’s incredibly common that when you have untreated hearing loss, you begin to socially isolate yourself from situations where you feel like you can’t participate anymore, whether it be because it’s depressing, it’s anxiety-inducing to not be able to engage the way that you were before, it’s easier then to step back and withdraw,” says Sara Burge, AuD, a board-certified clinical audiologist in Seguin, Texas. “We don’t want that to happen because typically, once you begin to isolate yourself, that’s when we start to see really significant changes in mental health, in engaging in activities of daily life, and we start to see the quality of life go down.”

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After a dementia diagnosis, your parent with hearing loss may have fewer opportunities to see friends, which may have an even greater negative impact.

“If you’re already in a situation where your social network has shrunk or your activities of daily life have consolidated down to a much smaller situation or sphere, having hearing loss on top of that is even further isolating,” Burge says. 

Hearing loss harms social connections
Humans are social creatures, and feeling close to family and friends can lift your mood and make you feel like you belong. Those with unaddressed hearing loss may feel less engaged by their loved ones, which may have detrimental effects.

“It’s so incredibly important to stay socially connected with those around you, to stay active mentally, emotionally and physically, and hearing loss is a really important part of that equation,” Burge says.

Research has shown a strong connection between age-related hearing loss, cognitive changes and dementia.

“A really popular Johns Hopkins study [was] suggesting that those with mild hearing loss are two times more likely to develop dementia,” Burge says, “those with moderate hearing loss are three times more likely, and those with severe hearing loss are five times more likely to develop dementia.”

Correcting hearing loss may have positive effects
Helping your parent with hearing loss listen to the soundtrack of their everyday life again may engage them, lift their mood or have other positive effects. Some research has examined whether hearing aids or other assistive devices may help to reverse depression and cognitive decline in older adults. More research is needed, but preliminary studies have found that correcting hearing loss may help to improve depression, mild cognitive impairment and quality of life.

If you suspect that your parent with dementia has hearing loss, bring them to their doctor or an audiologist for a hearing assessment.

“The important thing about early identification of hearing loss is we’re catching the snowball at the top of the mountain before it turns into the avalanche,” Burge says. “We want to change one of the root problems that can cause these really significant changes in quality of life, engagement.”
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How to improve quality of life for someone with dementia and hearing loss
Encourage your parent to use their hearing aids. If they can’t put them in by themselves anymore, do it for them.

“Wear them every single day,” Burge says. “Make sure that those on your care team are going to be prepared to help you manage them.”

Sounds stimulate your parent and help them feel connected to their environment. Help them find enjoyable things to listen to throughout the day.

“Listen to music that you love. Podcasts. Watch TV. Listen to the radio,” Burge says. “Keep those hearing parts of your brain active, healthy, as long as you can.”
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