Hearing loss affects around 30 million Americans over the age of 50, but over 25 million of them aren't doing anything to correct their hearing loss, which can have consequences on their work, their family lives, their social interactions, and according to research, even their brain function.
Research on Hearing Loss and Brain Function
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that hearing impaired adults between 74 and 85 years of age were at an increased risk of suffering from memory loss and cognitive difficulties than those in the same age bracket with normal hearing.
People have known for a long time that hearing often decreases as you get older, but the potential cognitive decline associated with this hearing loss is becoming better understood.
Hearing Loss Related To Significant Cognitive Impairment
A six-year study with over 2,000 participants found that the level of participants' brain functioning was inversely related to the presence of hearing loss (meaning that lower cognitive functioning was related to higher levels of hearing loss; and higher cognitive functioning was related to lower levels of hearing loss). In addition, those with hearing loss suffered “significant cognitive impairment” over 3 years earlier than those with normal hearing.
How Hearing Loss Affects Brain Function - And Causes Dementia
How does untreated hearing loss lead to dementia? To put it simply, your inner ear takes in complex sounds and converts them into signals that go to your brain. When the inner ear doesn’t do this conversion well anymore, the brain gets a muddled messaged. Now the brain has to give more energy and resources to hearing and processing sound, so there is less brain power available to be used for other things such as memory, making connections, etc. With less use, these other processes become weaker over time, which can lead to dementia and other cognitive impairment.
Other Risk Factors For Dementia Related to Hearing Loss
Another major risk factor of dementia is social isolation. We already know that people with hearing loss tend to withdraw from family and friends. They are less likely to go out, and less likely to engage in conversation. So the social isolation related to hearing loss may be a contributing factor in the development of dementia and diminished brain function.
Hearing Aids Can Help
A growing body of research has found that wearing hearing aids often helps to prevent or delay the decline in brain function associated with hearing loss. Hearing aids help people maintain relatively normal hearing function, so their brains don't have to work overtime processing sounds, and allows their brains to function normally.
Complimentary Hearing Consultation
If you or a loved one are experiencing cognitive decline - or diminished hearing, come in for a complimentary hearing screening and consultation with an experienced doctor of audiology. You will find out if you have a hearing loss, and if so, what you can do to keep you hearing your best, engaged in your surroundings and in your life - and to help prevent or delay the onset of dementia.