What’s the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline? Brain health and hearing loss have a connection which medical science is starting to understand. Your risk of developing cognitive decline is higher with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.
Researchers believe that there might be a pathological connection between these two seemingly unrelated health issues. So, how does loss of hearing put you in danger of dementia and how can a hearing exam help combat it?
Dementia, what is it?
The Mayo Clinic says that dementia is a cluster of symptoms that alter memory, alter the ability to think concisely, and decrease socialization skills. Alzheimer’s is a common type of cognitive decline the majority of people think of when they hear the word dementia. Around five million people in the US are impacted by this progressive type of dementia. Precisely how hearing health impacts the risk of dementia is finally well understood by scientists.
How hearing works
When it comes to good hearing, every part of the intricate ear component matters. Waves of sound go into the ear canal and are boosted as they move toward the inner ear. Electrical signals are transmitted to the brain for decoding by tiny little hairs in the inner ear that vibrate in response to sound waves.
Over time, many people develop a progressive decline in their ability to hear because of years of trauma to these fragile hair cells. Comprehension of sound becomes a lot harder because of the reduction of electrical impulses to the brain.
This progressive hearing loss is sometimes regarded as a normal and inconsequential part of the aging process, but research indicates that’s not accurate. The brain attempts to decode any signals sent by the ear even if they are jumbled or unclear. The ears can become strained and the brain exhausted from the added effort to hear and this can eventually lead to a higher chance of developing cognitive decline.
Here are several disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:
- Reduction in alertness
- Memory impairment
- Inability to master new tasks
- Overall diminished health
And the more extreme your hearing loss the greater your risk of cognitive decline. An individual with just minor impairment has double the risk. Hearing loss that is more significant will raise the risk by three times and very severe neglected hearing loss can put you at up to a five times higher risk. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University monitored the cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Cognitive and memory issues are 24 percent more likely in people who have hearing loss significant enough to disrupt conversation, according to this study.
Why a hearing assessment matters
Hearing loss impacts the general health and that would most likely surprise many people. Most people don’t even realize they have hearing loss because it progresses so gradually. As hearing declines, the human brain adjusts gradually so it makes it less obvious.
Scheduling routine thorough assessments gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to effectively assess hearing health and observe any decline as it occurs.
Using hearing aids to reduce the risk
Scientists presently believe that the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss is largely based on the brain stress that hearing loss causes. So hearing aids should be able to reduce the risk, based on that fact. A hearing assistance device amplifies sound while filtering out background noise that impedes your hearing and relieves the strain on your brain. With a hearing aid, the brain will not work as hard to comprehend the audio messages it’s receiving.
People who have normal hearing can still possibly develop dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss quickens the decline in the brain, increasing the risk of cognitive problems. Getting regular hearing tests to detect and manage hearing loss before it gets too serious is key to reducing that risk.
If you’re concerned that you might be dealing with hearing loss, call us today to schedule your hearing evaluation.