One of the darkest aspects of retirement is the possibility of losing our mental capacities to dementia or Alzheimer’s. It is nothing short of a nightmare for the person affected and the caregiver.
The pharmaceutical industry has mounted an all-hands effort to develop better treatments for Alzheimer’s, but – to date – none have shown more than marginal effectiveness.
The news about dementia, however, is actually quite good. Research indicates that as many as one-third of cases can be prevented by paying attention to one of the most common ailments among the gray legion: age-related hearing loss.
Simply put, as our hearing declines, we become more socially isolated (we aren’t as capable of interacting in complex situations). And isolation is believed to be one of the primary causes of dementia.
Hearing is a two-part brain function.
The ear encodes sound and sends a signal to the brain. The brain then processes that signal.
When the sound is muffled or garbled, the brain has to work harder to process it. As a result, it is harder for the person to remember what he or she heard.
Even young people with normal hearing have trouble remembering what they hear when a sound is garbled or muffled.
Researchers believe extended periods of extra duty by our brains trying to process weak sound signals may have negative, long-term effects on our neural processes. And as the neural networks wear down, so do our mental capacities.
The saddest aspect of this hearing and brain function issue – which can be easily corrected – is that the vast majority of people who need hearing aids do not wear them.
Complicating the whole issue is that the cost of hearing aids, the ones that really work, can run into the thousands.
There are still gaps in the research that limit experts from pronouncing the link between age-related hearing loss and dementia as a certainty. But there is enough evidence to get your hearing checked and wear your hearing aids.
Having your ears checked should be one of those first things you do when you retire. It certainly can’t hurt.
And if the current research is correct – and I believe it is – you just reduced you chances of dementia by as much as a third.
You can’t put a price on that.