Many of us suffer some degree of hearing loss as we hit midlife. As long as we can still keep up a conversation, the hearing loss probably isn't much of an impediment. But for others, the consequences can be severe.
In a fascinating new book, author Katherine Bouton, a former editor at The New York Times and a friend of mine, talks about her own hearing loss and the latest research. The book is called Shouting Won't Help: Why I – and 50 Million Other Americans – Can't Hear You. I recommend it if you or anyone in your family is coping with hearing loss.
Bouton, 65, started losing her own hearing at the age of 30; her doctors don't know why. A few years ago, her hearing loss was so severe that she had a cochlear implant in one ear and she now wears a hearing aid in the other. Despite this technological help, she still struggles to keep up with ordinary conversations, especially when she can't read the speaker's lips.
One of the more interesting research strands that Bouton describes concerns the connection between hearing loss and dementia risk. She says that scientists are finding a strong association between people who lose hearing in midlife and more serious and earlier onset of dementia.
Bouton says there could be several reasons for this association. The first is that people with hearing loss tend to isolate themselves from social interaction and isolation increases the risk of dementia. There's also what scientists call "cognitive overload" – it's difficult to absorb information when you are working so hard to make out words.
Bouton says it's also possible that there is some biological connection between hearing loss and dementia – in other words, these may be two symptoms of the same underlying pathology.
I'll talk about other news from the book in future posts.