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Study points to newfound relationship between hearing aids and dementia

Myra Kinnie, an Ocoee resident, uses hearing aids.

Every morning she toasts a plain bagel from a local shop in her kitchen, and she watches TV. However, hearing loss has stripped away the enjoyment of these activities for her. She can no longer hear the toaster oven or TV with her own two ears. Kinnie says her family has dealt with hearing loss for generations.

“We have nerve damage. That’s the kind of hearing loss that my family had,” she said.

There is a relationship between hearing aids and dementia, and preventing cognitive decline may start with treating hearing loss. A recent study by the Alzheimer’s Association says hearing aids reduce cognitive decline in older adults with some kind of hearing loss by almost 50%.

Ocala Hears Audiologist Dr. Evan Pemba says hearing loss can be hereditary or caused by loud noises such as music or guns. He says a lot of his patients are veterans because they were around loud ordinances, explosions and gunfire.

Ron Inmon, a Navy veteran, says he was exposed to constant pressure changes and loud noises being on a submarine, which is why he has hearing aids. His doctors even recognized it as service-related.

Dr. Pemba says for most patients the problem isn’t that they can’t hear, it’s that they cannot understand because typical hearing loss is high pitch in nature. The high pitches create clarity and understanding, he said. That’s why hearing aids are important.

“It gives them access to that clarity and detailed type of information, that’s going to help them with regard to communicating better and with regard to remembering,” he said. “Now they’re hearing the information, and it’s also going to make them come out of their shell.”

Inmon says there were times when he felt alienated when he couldn’t hear.

“There were a lot of times where I would sit in silence because I can’t understand what you’re saying, I don’t know what you’re saying and I don’t want to say something stupid,” Inmon said.

Dr. Pemba says we hear with our brain which is why hearing loss contributes to dementia.

“When that brain isn't getting adequate auditory stimulation, it's like a muscle, if that muscle isn't getting a good enough workout, it's going to atrophy,” he said. “So when it atrophies, that could contribute to dementia.”

Dr. Pemba says it is important to see an audiologist and get the right hearing aids, too.

Kinnie found the perfect hearing aids for her, which help her continue doing tasks she loves, like baking. She has also found tricks to help her hear the toaster oven, so she can keep her mind sharp.

“I run around with a timer because I can then make sure I hear, make sure I see because my seeing helps me to understand if I need to take something out,” she said.

She has also figured out how to connect her hearing aids to a bluetooth device to hear the sound of the tv through her hearing aids.

Her hearing aids have allowed her to understand her family, and function normally.

“Well my family number one can hear me,” Kinnie said. “Hearing aids have been quite a boon for me. It makes it easier for me to function.”

Hearing aids are giving Kinnie and Inmon a more thoughtful, communicative life every day.