Hearing Health Blog

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

“Mental acuity” is a term that gets commonly tossed around in context with getting older. It’s called, by most health care specialistssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several factors that play into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, concentration and the ability to understand and comprehend are just a few of the areas that can play a role in one’s mental acuity.

Besides mind altering illnesses like dementia, hearing loss has also been verified as a contributing factor for mental decline.

The Link Between Your Hearing And Dementia

In fact, research out of Johns Hopkins University discover a connection between dementia, a loss in cognitive ability, and loss of hearing. Through a study of 2,000 people age 75-84 over a six-year span, researchers concluded that individuals who had loss of hearing had a 30 to 40 percent quicker decline in cognitive function than those with normal hearing.

In the study which researchers noticed a decrease in cognitive capability, memory and focus were two of the areas highlighted. One Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying the significance of loss of hearing just because it’s considered a typical aspect of getting older.

Memory Loss is Not The Only Worry With Hearing Impairment

Not just memory loss but stress, periods of sadness, and depression are also more likely in people with hearing loss according to another study. Additionally, that study’s hearing-impaired individuals were more likely to become hospitalized or injured in a fall.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t suffer from hearing loss were not as likely to develop dementia than individuals who did have loss of hearing. Moreover, the study discovered a direct relationship between the severity of hearing loss and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. People with more severe loss of hearing were as much as five times more likely to experience symptoms of dementia.

And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of cognitive aptitude and hearing loss.

International Research Supports a Relationship Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that dementia will be developed more often and earlier by people who have hearing loss than by those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further by analyzing two separate causes of age-related hearing loss. People with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to develop mental impairment than people with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. People who have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, commonly struggle to comprehend the words they can hear.

In the Italian study, participants with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had lower scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Though researchers were sure about the link between hearing loss and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation remains a mystery.

The Way Loss of Hearing Can Impact Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory that revolves around the brain’s temporal cortex. In speaking on that potential cause, the study’s lead author highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are positioned above the ear and play a role in the recognition of spoken words.

The theory suggests that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which serves as a receiver of information prior to processing, along with concurrent alterations to the memory parts of the temporal cortex, could be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What Should You do if You Have Loss of Hearing?

The Italians believe this kind of mild cognitive impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. Despite that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s certainly something to be serious about And the number of Us citizens who could be in danger is shocking.

Two out of every three people have lost some ability to hear if they are older than 75, with significant hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Loss of hearing even impacts 14 percent of people from 45 to 65.

Fortunately there are ways to mitigate these dangers with a hearing aid, which can offer a considerable improvement in hearing function for many people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist to see if you need hearing aids.

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