Until recently, scientists could not pinpoint the relationship between depression and dementia — both of which are related to hearing loss — but that mystery appears to have been solved. A new study published in the journal Neurology details the association, reporting that people with symptoms of depression tend to suffer a more rapid decline in thinking and memory ability, potentially leading to dementia. The study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, but depression was considered by the authors to be a serious risk factor for dementia.

Hearing care providers are already well aware of the relationship between hearing loss and depression, as well as the relationship between hearing loss and dementia. Communicating becomes difficult and exhausting for individuals with untreated hearing loss, so those with an impairment tend to withdraw from social contact — and social isolation is a common risk factor for depression. And in a 2011 Johns Hopkins University study, participants showed an increased risk for dementia based on the severity of their hearing loss. However, a better understanding of how depression and dementia are related may help providers find more effective treatment solutions in the future.

We may never know all there is to know about the human body, but evidence-based research indicates that hearing aids can be an effective communication treatment — and that better communication can help prevent or delay the onset of depression and dementia by stimulating areas of the brain that otherwise wouldn’t receive stimulation.