Hearing Health Blog

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets regularly thrown around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. It’s called, by most health care specialistssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several factors that go into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, focus 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 illnesses such as dementia are generally considered the cause of a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently associated as another major contributor to mental decline.

The Connection Between Dementia And Your Hearing

In fact, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University discovered a relationship between loss of hearing, dementia and a decline in cognitive ability. A six year study of 2000 people between the ages of 75-85 concluded that there was a 30 to 40 percent quicker mental decline in people who suffer from loss of hearing.

Memory and concentration were two of the functions highlighted by the study in which researchers noted a reduction in cognitive abilities. One Johns Hopkins professor warned against downplaying the importance of hearing loss just because it’s considered a typical part of getting older.

Complications From Impaired Hearing Besides Loss of Memory

Not only 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 participants 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 have hearing loss were not as likely to develop dementia than individuals who did have hearing loss. And an even more revealing statistic from this study was that the likelihood of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and hearing loss had a direct correlation. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in individuals with more extreme hearing loss.

But the work carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins is hardly the first to stake a claim for the connection between loss of hearing and a lack of cognitive aptitude.

International Research Backs up a Correlation Between Loss of Hearing And Mental Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that those with hearing impairments ended up with dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy went even further by studying two different causes of age-related hearing loss. People who have normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to develop mental impairment than those with central hearing loss. This was determined after scientists studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. Typically, people struggle to understand words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

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 researchers were confident in the connection between loss of hearing and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation remains a mystery.

How Can Loss of Hearing Impact Mental Acuity?

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory about 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 situated above the ear and are involved in the recognition of spoken words.

The auditory cortex functions as a receiver of information and undergoes changes as we grow older along with the memory areas of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

If You Have Loss of Hearing, What Can You do?

The Italians believe this kind of mild mental impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s staggering the number of Us citizens who are in danger.

Out of all people, two of three have lost some ability to hear if they are older than 75, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is regarded as considerable hearing loss. Even 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64 are affected by hearing loss.

Hearing aids can offer a significant improvement in hearing function mitigating dangers for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
To find out if you need hearing aids make an appointment with a hearing care professional.

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