Could Hearing Loss and Dementia Be Connected?

From a New York Times Health Interview

Interview by 

Published: February 11, 2013
Pam Belluck is a health and science writer for The New York Times.

Pam Belluck is a health and science writer for The New York Times.

PAM BELLUCK: I’m Pam Belluck, I’m a health and science writer for The New York Times. And this week, I am interviewing Katherine Bouton, who has been a long time editor for The New York Times and it now a contributing writer to our science section. And she has written a book called, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You.” And it’s a look into her own personal journey with hearing loss and a look into the research behind hearing loss. Katherine has written a piece that looks at a very interesting and surprising connection that some scientists have found between hearing loss and dementia. Katherine, first of all, welcome to the podcast, thank you for joining us.

KATHERINE BOUTON: Thank you very much.

MS. BELLUCK: And why don’t you tell us a little bit about what the scientists have found here.

MS. BOUTON: In studies over about the past…beginning in 2011 and continuing now—a new study was just published last month—is that there seems to be a strong association between hearing loss and both the earlier onset and more serious degree of dementia even with milder hearing loss, but especially with very severe hearing loss. For somebody like me who has a hearing aid and a cochlear implant but I still don’t hear very , this is alarming news.

MS. BELLUCK: All they have found at the moment is what’s called an association. So we don’t have any kind of causal connection—either that dementia either causing hearing loss or vice versa. But they do have three interesting theories about what could be happening. Could you lay those out for us?

MS. BOUTON: Okay, I should mention that the primary researcher on this is Frank Lin, who is at Hopkins and his database are two or three different long-term epidemiological studies. The first was based on the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. I went to see him after that first study was published and he had three things to offer.

The first made a lot of sense. It was that people with hearing loss tend to isolate themselves and isolation is a risk factor for dementia whether you’re hearing or hearing-impaired.

The second is something that he calls cognitive load — and which I call cognitive overload. What happens is that when you aren’t hearing very well, even with corrected hearing you’re trying so hard to hear the person that it makes it very hard to actually listen to what the person is saying. It’s very hard to absorb the information. When I did my interviews for this book – and I did a lot — I taped all of my interviews and I had someone else transcribe them because I couldn’t hear the tapes. I went and I got my transcriptions back I was constantly surprised by what I had asked, what I had heard, what they had answered. Every interview was like doing the whole thing fresh twice over.

The third possible explanation is the one that is most alarming and it’s the one that scientists like Dr. Lin and others are beginning to look at, and that’s that there’s an underlying pathological mechanism that has an influence on both hearing loss and dementia. It could be something environmental. It could be something genetic. They just don’t know.

These studies so far have relied on self-reported use of hearing aids. The next study that Dr. Lin is doing — he’s submitted a grant application now — is to specifically study how hearings aids are used, how often they are used, how carefully they were fitted, how much continual contact with the audiologist there is, whether the hearing-impaired person uses any assistive technology in addition to the hearing aids or the cochlear implant.

MS. BELLUCK: I’m interested in what you’re saying about corrected hearing. You are somebody wearing a hearing aid and a cochlear implant and according to the research that would not necessarily make a difference here. According to his research so far, people who are wearing hearing aids — it didn’t protect them from getting dementia. So does that tend to suggest some support for this idea that there being this underlying biological mechanism that might cause both?

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Get Up. Get Out. Don’t Sit. (NY Times Health)

From the New York Times

Just as we were all settling in front of the television to watch the baseball playoffs, two new studies about the perils of sitting have spoiled our viewing pleasure.

The research, published in separate medical journals this month, adds to a growing scientific consensus that the more time someone spends sitting, especially in front of the television, the shorter and less robust his or her life may be.

To reach that conclusion, the authors of one of the studies, published in the October issue of The British Journal of Sports Medicine, turned to data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, a large, continuing survey of the health habits of almost 12,000 Australian adults.

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Why We Should Rethink How We Sleep

Excerpts from Rethinking Sleep -By DAVID K. RANDALL Published: September 22, 2012 New York Times

SOMETIME in the dark stretch of the night it happens. Perhaps it’s the chime of an incoming text message. Or your iPhone screen lights up to alert you to a new e-mail. Or you find yourself staring at the ceiling, replaying the day in your head. Next thing you know, you’re out of bed and engaged with the world, once again ignoring the often quoted fact that eight straight hours of sleep is essential.

QUICK FACTS:

  • Roughly 41 million people in the United States — nearly a third of all working adults — get six hours or fewer of sleep a night, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • About 42 percent of workers in the mining industry are sleep-deprived.
  • About 27 percent of financial or insurance industry workers share the same complaint.
  • The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. (The world’s population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.)

HISTORICAL SLEEP STYLES

One of the first signs that the emphasis on a straight eight-hour sleep had outlived its usefulness arose in the early 1990s, thanks to a history professor at Virginia Tech named A. Roger Ekirch, who spent hours investigating the history of the night and began to notice strange references to sleep. A character in the “Canterbury Tales,” for instance, decides to go back to bed after her “firste sleep.” A doctor in England wrote that the time between the “first sleep” and the “second sleep” was the best time for study and reflection. And one 16th-century French physician concluded that laborers were able to conceive more children because they waited until after their “first sleep” to make love. Professor Ekirch soon learned that he wasn’t the only one who was on to the historical existence of alternate sleep cycles. In a fluke of history, Thomas A. Wehr, a psychiatrist then working at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., was conducting an experiment in which subjects were deprived of artificial light. Without the illumination and distraction from light bulbs, televisions or computers, the subjects slept through the night, at least at first. But, after a while, Dr. Wehr noticed that subjects began to wake up a little after midnight, lie awake for a couple of hours, and then drift back to sleep again, in the same pattern of segmented sleep that Professor Ekirch saw referenced in historical records and early works of literature. READ MORE: