If you suffer from hearing loss, you may miss out on more than the conversations around you. Several studies also suggest that hearing loss can increase your risk of cognitive issues, including dementia.
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“The cause behind this link is unclear. But one theory is that hearing loss tends to cause some people to withdraw from conversations and participate less in activities,” says geriatric medicine specialist Ronan Factora, MD. “As a result, you become less social and less engaged.”
Because this lack of stimulation can increase your risk of developing dementia, social engagement is one of the activities promoted to protect brain health.
When to get your hearing checked
Some people ignore signs of hearing loss, or chalk them up to aging and just live with it. But hearing loss can affect your life in many ways, so if you suspect you’re at risk, talk to your doctor.
Ask for an audiology evaluation to determine how severe the hearing loss is, Dr. Factora says. “If you do have hearing loss and your physician offers a solution like hearing aids, try them out,” he says.
“If you wait too long and develop memory problems, it will be more difficult for you to learn how to use these devices. It’s best to get used to them while the mind is still sharp so you can improve your quality of life.”
While you can’t prevent cognitive issues from developing as you age, you can slow the onset of dementia through lifestyle interventions, Dr. Factora says.
4 lifestyle habits that promote brain health
1. Keep your mind active
You can keep learning throughout your life — no matter how far you got in school.
Studies do show a lower risk of dementia if your level of education is high school or better. “But studies also show that if you can maintain an 8th-grade level of reading or literacy throughout your life, it will help keep your mind active,” says Dr. Factora.
“You can also engage in hobbies that help keep you learning or challenged.” You may enjoy playing board games, ballroom dancing, playing a musical instrument or learning a foreign language. Any new activity that forces you to learn and increase your skill over time develops new neural connections in the brain.
“These healthy new neural connections may help you bypass any damage to the brain associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Factora explains.
2. Maintain a good social network
Social connections help keep your brain healthy as you age. So it’s important to maintain good relationships with friends and family.
“If you’re constantly engaged in a give-and-take conversation and are around a lot of people, that stimulation will have a positive effect on your brain health,” says Dr. Factora.
3. Exercise regularly
Exercise — particularly cardiovascular exercise — protects the brain as well, says Dr. Factora. He recommends getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (even walking at a brisk pace) at least five days each week.
“Other types of exercise, such as strength training, can be beneficial,” he says. “But evidence suggests that cardiovascular exercise probably is most helpful for maintaining brain health.
4. Stick to a Mediterranean diet
Eating right is also good for brain health. Dr. Factora recommends following a Mediterranean diet. This focuses on eating lots of vegetables and fruits, along with legumes, fish, olive oil, and nuts and seeds.
“Not only is this type of diet good for your heart — it’s also beneficial for your brain,” he says.