Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HISLeave a Comment

Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HIS
Latest posts by Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HIS (see all)

As we age, there are so many aspects of our health to which we must pay attention and care for in order to continue to thrive into our golden years. An aspect that requires extra care, is working to decrease the risk of cognitive decline.

Cognitive decline, also referred to as brain atrophy, occurs as we age. The connections between brain cells can become fragmented or destroyed. While there are many factors that contribute to this process, many researchers have identified hearing loss as a major source, which can exasperate this dangerous condition.

The link between hearing loss and cognitive decline

When people start to develop hearing loss, it is often certain consonants and tones that are diminished first. People are forced to fill in the words that they lose due to hearing loss, forcing the brain to put more effort toward interpreting speech and sound.

When the brain is consistently working harder to understand everyday conversation, people often suffer what is called “listener’s fatigue”. A casual conversation can become exhausting, causing the struggling listener to avoid social situations.

People with untreated hearing loss are more likely to self-isolate, rather than subject themselves to the tiring task of interpreting conversations that used to feel easy.  Lack of social interaction alone has been linked to cognitive decline and dementia.

The brain is like a muscle and must be used to stay strong. When people start to isolate the brain cells can become at risk for shrinkage due to under stimulation. Similarly, when the brain doesn’t receive as much information due to untreated hearing loss the brain can become atrophied.

Studies linking hearing loss to a rise in cognitive decline

Researchers have found alarming evidence linking hearing loss and its connection to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, a study from Johns Hopkins University examined cognitive impairment scores over a six year span among almost 2,000 seniors. The study identified a strong link between hearing loss and earlier, quicker cognitive decline. While every participant had no cognitive decline at the start of the study, findings showed a rise in cognitive decline by 24 percent among those who had untreated hearing loss.

An alternative study from Salt Lake City examined 4,500 seniors without dementia over the span of twelve years. Researchers found that 16.3 percent of those with hearing loss developed dementia compared to only 12.1 percent of those with healthy hearing. Researchers also found that the onset of dementia developed faster in patients with hearing loss, occurring in a decade among those with hearing loss, while those with healthy hearing developed dementia in 12 years.

Hearing aids promote a healthy brain

It is difficult to identify how to prevent cognitive decline and dementia because scientists still do not know the exact cause. Even so it is recommended to eat a healthy balanced diet, stay active, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking and stay socially engaged. Staying active and social can be difficult when hearing loss starts to develop.

While there is no way to reverse the effects of hearing loss, it is a condition that can be treated with hearing aids. Hearing aids amplify the sounds around you and send them to your ears, making it easier to understand conversation and be more aware of the sounds around you.

People who commit to using their hearing aids consistently are shown to be more socially engaged and home, at work and among friends. They can gain a greater sense of independence, allowing them to exercise more, maintain a healthy weight and get out and about. A rich social and active life is shown to help prevent or slow the effects of cognitive decline.

Address your hearing loss today

If you suspect you have a hearing loss, it is never too early to get ahead of your hearing issues and cognitive decline. Contact us to set up a hearing test so we can help you find the best hearing aids for you and keep you hearing and feeling your best. Healthy hearing with hearing aids not only helps you feel connected to the world around you, but can help keep you sharp and ready for the surprises life has to offer.

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