The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Hearing loss means you are missing parts of conversation, missing social interaction – perhaps starting to feel a little isolated. In addition to the obvious issues with hearing loss, there are studies that show untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline/dementia issues. A painless test by compassionate and caring staff at Denver Audiology can determine if you do have hearing loss and what the best treatment options might be.

Hearing loss, dementia and research

Adults with even mild hearing loss have a higher risk for dementia, according to studies. Severe hearing loss means you are five times more at risk for dementia. Not only can hearing loss lead to dementia but hearing loss has also has been found to cause cognitive decline.

A study of nearly 2,000 adults showed those who had some hearing loss were 24% more likely than adults of the same age that had no hearing loss, to experience cognitive loss within six years. Cognitive functions declined 40% faster in those with hearing loss. Memory and thinking/cognitive issues showed up three years earlier in adults with hearing loss. The more severe of the hearing loss, the faster and the greater cognitive decline.

The Brain Strain

Researchers have discovered when you strain to hear, it puts a strain on your brain on several levels. You ‘hear’ with your ears, but process with your brain. When your brain is trying to sort out mixed, garbled messages because you can’t hear clearly, it stresses your brain. As your brain strains to understand and process, you are actually harming your brain and that will lead to cognitive issues.

Studies show cognitive difficulties occurred 40% faster in those with hearing loss. Those involved in the studies showed greater problems with thinking and memory. As a matter of fact, the issues showed up almost three years earlier in adults with hearing loss than with adults reporting normal hearing!
The study also measured cognitive decline and hearing loss correlations when those adults under study also had blood pressure and diabetes. Even with treatment for the diabetes and high blood pressure, there was still a decline in cognitive function with hearing loss.

Hearing loss also linked to brain atrophy

One of the most recently completed studies points out three main reasons poor hearing and dementia/cognitive difficulties are linked.

1 – Cognitive load. When your brain can’t sort out what your ears are hearing, it works harder to make sense of the partial and incomplete information it is getting. This “loads” too much information processing into one area and the other areas of the brain are not fully stimulated.

2 – Loss of stimulation. People with hearing difficulties tend to socially isolate themselves. Lack of outside social stimulation – or even giving up watching TV or listening to the radio – reduces cognitive stimulation and causes cognitive loss.

3 – Brain atrophy. When you are hearing less, your brain is processing less information. The area of the brain that processes information you hear also is the area that controls functions like memory, learning and critical thinking. When the area begins to atrophy because of hearing loss, it affects the overall Function loss – not just hearing!

MRIs of the brain used in several studies show people with even mild hearing loss are employing more of the brain to try and process hearing leaving less to be used for thinking, memory and sound decision making. It’s a sort of overload on one part and the rest starts to slow down, too.

Get a hearing test to be sure

The American Speech Language Hearing Association recommends getting a hearing test every 10 years until you reach the age of 50 and then get a hearing test every three year. Hearing loss creeps up on you and before you know it you may be losing other functions, too. We can give you a thorough hearing test at Denver Audiology, discuss the results with in terms you’ll understand and answer all your questions. We can recommend a course of treatment and a type of hearing aid. We’ll even let you take your hearing aids on a test drive!

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