Cognitive decline and hearing loss, what’s the link? Medical science has connected the dots between brain health and hearing loss. Your risk of developing cognitive decline is increased with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.
These two seemingly unconnected health conditions may have a pathological link. So, how does hearing loss put you in danger of dementia and how can a hearing test help combat it?
What is dementia?
The Mayo Clinic states that dementia is a group of symptoms that alter memory, alter the ability to think clearly, and reduce socialization skills. People often think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear dementia probably because it is a prevalent form. About five million people in the US are impacted by this progressive form of dementia. Exactly how hearing health impacts the risk of dementia is finally well understood by scientists.
How hearing works
The ear mechanisms are quite intricate and each one matters in relation to good hearing. Waves of sound go into the ear canal and are amplified as they travel toward the inner ear. Inside the labyrinth of the inner ear, little hair cells vibrate in response to the sound waves to transmit electrical impulses that the brain translates.
Over the years these little hairs can become permanently damaged from exposure to loud noise. The result is a decrease in the electrical signals to the brain that makes it harder to comprehend sound.
This progressive hearing loss is sometimes regarded as a normal and inconsequential part of the aging process, but research indicates that’s not the case. Whether the signals are unclear and jumbled, the brain will try to decipher them anyway. The ears can become strained and the brain exhausted from the additional effort to hear and this can ultimately lead to a higher risk of developing cognitive decline.
Loss of hearing is a risk factor for many diseases that result in:
- Overall diminished health
- Trouble learning new skills
- Reduction in alertness
- Impaired memory
The odds of developing dementia can increase based on the extent of your hearing loss, too. Even minor hearing loss can double the odds of dementia. Hearing loss that is more severe will raise the risk by three times and very severe untreated hearing loss can put you at up to a five times greater danger. Research by Johns Hopkins University tracked the cognitive skills of over 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Cognitive and memory problems are 24 percent more likely in individuals who have hearing loss significant enough to disrupt conversation, according to this study.
Why a hearing test matters
Not everyone appreciates how even a little hearing loss affects their overall health. For most people, the decline is progressive so they don’t always recognize there is a problem. The human brain is good at adapting as hearing declines, so it is not so obvious.
We will be able to effectively assess your hearing health and track any changes as they happen with routine hearing exams.
Using hearing aids to decrease the risk
The current hypothesis is that strain on the brain from hearing loss plays a big part in cognitive decline and different kinds of dementia. Based on that one fact, you might conclude that hearing aids decrease that risk. The strain on your brain will be reduced by using a hearing aid to filter out undesirable background noise while enhancing sounds you want to hear. The sounds that you’re hearing will get through without as much effort.
People who have normal hearing can still possibly develop dementia. But scientists believe hearing loss accelerates that decline. The key to reducing that risk is routine hearing tests to diagnose and manage gradual hearing loss before it can have an impact on brain health.
If you’re concerned that you may be dealing with hearing loss, contact us today to schedule your hearing assessment.