A term that gets regularly tossed around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. The majority of health care or psychology specialists call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several aspects that go 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 a person’s mental acuity.
Mind-altering conditions like dementia are commonly thought of as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently linked as another significant cause of cognitive decline.
The Connection Between Your Hearing And Dementia
In fact, Johns Hopkins University conducted one study which discovered a relationship between loss of hearing, dementia and a loss in cognitive function. A six year study of 2000 people from the ages of 75-85 found that there was a 30 to 40 percent faster cognitive decline in people who had from hearing loss.
Memory and focus were two of the areas outlined by the study in which researchers noted a reduction in mental abilities. And though hearing loss is usually considered a normal part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its significance.
Memory Loss is Not The Only Concern With Impaired Hearing
Not just memory loss but stress, periods of unhappiness, and depression are also more likely in people with hearing loss according to another study. Hospitalization and injury from a fall were also found to be more likely in this study’s participants.
A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who suffered from hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more inclined to develop dementia than people with healthy hearing. And an even more telling stat from this study was that the probability of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and loss of hearing had a direct correlation. People with more extreme hearing loss were as much as five times more likely to encounter symptoms of dementia.
And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also brought attention to the loss of cognitive aptitude and hearing loss.
International Research Backs up a Relationship Between Loss of Hearing And Cognitive Decline
Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that those with hearing loss developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.
One study in Italy went even further by analyzing two separate causes of age-related hearing loss. Individuals with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were less likely to have cognitive impairment than people with central hearing loss. This was concluded after researchers studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. People with central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, generally struggle to understand the words they can hear.
Scores on cognitive tests involving memory and thought were lower in those people who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.
Although the exact reason for the connection between hearing loss and cognitive impairment is still unknown, researchers are confident in the connection.
The Way Loss of Hearing Can Affect Mental Acuity
However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory that revolves around the brain’s temporal cortex. When talking about that potential cause, the study’s lead researcher emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are positioned above the ear and are involved in the recognition of spoken words.
The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and goes through changes as we grow older along with the memory parts of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.
What Can You do if You Have Hearing Loss?
The Italians believe this kind of mild cognitive impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. Despite that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s most definitely something to take seriously. And it’s shocking the amount of Americans who are at risk.
Two out of every three people over the age of 75 have lost some ability to hear, with considerable hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Loss of hearing even affects 14 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 64.
Hearing aids can offer a considerable improvement in hearing function mitigating risks for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
To see if you need hearing aids make an appointment with a hearing care professional.