DEAR DR. MICHELLE,
Is it true that hearing loss causes dementia?
Some research has shown a relationship between hearing loss and cognitive impairment. When a person cannot hear, the part of the brain that processes sound is not being stimulated the way it otherwise would be. Reduced stimulation to auditory centers in the brain and their connections may lead to brain atrophy and impaired cognitive functioning.
Hearing impairment may also result in reduced cognitive stimulation and functioning. For example, a hearing- impaired person may not engage in conversation when they can’t hear what others are saying. Or, they may not “remember” the conversation (because they never heard it in the first place).
While hearing aids may not be comfortable or a solution for all hearing problems, the wave of new hearing aids available offer additional options, though some trial and error may be needed. Effective hearing aids, regular hearing check-ups, and controlling the environment for distracting background noise are ways to help manage and moderate potential cognitive effects of hearing loss. As the likelihood of hearing loss increases with age, so must our efforts to combat the potential secondary effects. Maintaining an active social, cognitive, and physical lifestyle that utilizes different sensory experiences is important for brain activation, even in the face of hearing loss.
DEAR DR. MICHELLE,
I’ve heard that a glass of red wine is good for the brain and also heard that any alcohol at all is bad for the brain. Which is it?
The results and recommendations about alcohol and brain health are conflicting. Some studies have shown that moderate amounts of red wine can reduce brain inflammation and possibly lower risk for some neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Flavonoids in red wine are antioxidants thought to provide benefits to brain health, but this still needs to be tested in clinical trials. Flavonoids may be ingested through different foods and supplements and the dosing and effect of flavonoids is not fully clear. Other research has shown that moderate amounts of alcohol, in any form, may support brain health by reducing stress and risk for vascular disease in the brain.
However, the negative effects of alcohol on the brain are also clear. Alcohol consumption impairs speech, memory, judgement, and motor functioning. Mixing alcohol with medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, presents additional risks. Long-term alcohol use and abuse has been associated with brain atrophy and reduced brain functioning. Some researchers claim that even moderate drinking can be harmful to the brain, even if potentially helpful to other organs, like the heart.
Whether or not to incorporate alcohol into your diet and lifestyle is a personal decision to be made in consultation with your physician so that you are prepared to make informed, deliberate choices. If you do partake, consider the quantity that’s right for you so you don’t make “pour” decisions.
*Michelle Papka, Ph.D. is the Founder of The Cognitive and Research Center of New Jersey (The CRCNJ) in Springfield, NJ. The mission of The CRCNJ is to provide no-cost diagnostic, treatment and supportive resources through clinical research opportunities to people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.