There is a strong link between hearing loss and dementia. According to one study, people with mild hearing loss are two times as likely to develop dementia, and this increases to three times for those with moderate hearing loss (Lin et al 2011). The reasons for this relationship are not clear, but communication difficulties may be one reason, as both hearing loss and dementia can make communication more difficult.
It is essential to recognise and respond sensitively to hearing loss in people with dementia. If a person with dementia is unable to communicate, problems they are having with their hearing, this is likely to cause distress. They may well be frustrated or aggressive, but unable to say why – and these reactions then may be interpreted as being a result of the dementia.
Both identification and management of hearing loss are particularly important where a person has dementia. Without this, the dementia may appear worse or appear to be getting worse. For example, if a person with dementia is having difficulty using their hearing aid – say they don’t remember to use it or don’t recognise it as their hearing aid – this is likely to make it harder for them to follow communication and may make them seem more confused and withdrawn.
Both hearing loss and dementia can cause social isolation. Where someone is experiencing both of these, this can be compounded. For example, the person may be unwilling to attend social functions or participate in activities because their problems with hearing and memory make social situations so much more uncomfortable.