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Leveraging the Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

Dr. Sara Burdak February 4, 2019

By creating products that improve hearing, can the longevity market improve dementia?

As a result of the rising number of older adults and overall life expectancy, the prevalence of both dementia and hearing loss are projected to have staggering increases. Dementia cases are expected to more than double to 66 million by 2030, and hearing loss will follow a similar pattern whereby an estimated 27 million people over the age of 60 will have some level of age-related hearing loss. Even today, hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in the world.

The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

Symptoms of hearing loss and dementia are similar, and in some cases, may actually mimic each other. Examples of such behaviors include lack of social interaction and cognitive engagement, and reduced physical activity and involvement.

Hearing loss itself doesn’t cause dementia, but it can exacerbate symptoms for an individual who is already having difficulty with memory and cognition. Many people wait far too long to seek out treatment options. As a hearing professional, I always encourage people to act sooner rather than later. This is a major contributing factor to their success.

Recent research points to the silver lining that age-related hearing loss and social isolation—as two factors—could help mitigate the onset and progression of dementia. A growing number of studies show strong evidence to support that while hearing intervention doesn’t prevent dementia or cognitive decline, it does slow down the progression by as much as 75 percent. Wearing and using hearing aids resulted in a slower decline of cognitive function than not wearing them.

New Approaches to Hearing Loss

Sadly, today only 1 in 4 individuals with a treatable hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids actually takes action to obtain them. Our industry has relentlessly pursued ways to reduce the stigma of hearing aids by creating new products, raising awareness and changing the conversation about hearing aids.

For example, my company produces a Healthable hearing aid that utilizes embedded sensors and artificial intelligence, allowing the user to influence factors that may slow the progression of dementia, such as keeping your mind and body active. It evaluates how much time the hearing aids are worn, measures the time spent in conversation or active listening to stimuli such as music, tracks daily steps, monitors more vigorous activity and eventually, will take heart rate measurements.

We consider the ear to be the new wrist. Data tracked within the ear provides far more accurate results. With additional artificial intelligent features like fall detection and alerts, patients and their caregivers will have added peace of mind for their loved ones.

We know that better hearing contributes to overall wellness and improved quality of life. Like other chronic conditions, hearing loss is often overlooked and typically has significant impacts on the family and friends of the individual. This is a pivotal time for the entire hearing healthcare industry.

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Dr. Sara Burdak

Dr. Sara Burdak is an audiologist on the Hearing Research and Technology team and serves as Chief Audiology Officer at Starkey Hearing Technologies in Eden Prairie, MN. She played a pivotal role in the roll out of Starkey’s new device, Livio AI, the first hearing aid with artificial intelligence. Dr. Burdak also develops programs related to education and training for Starkey Hearing Technologies’ global hearing aid users. She earned her bachelor's degree in audiology and speech sciences from Michigan State University, her master's degree in audiology from Wayne State University, and her Au.D. from the Arizona School of Health Sciences.

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