Hearing Loss And Mental Acuity, What is The Connection?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A phrase that gets commonly tossed around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. Most health care or psychology experts call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several aspects that go into the measurement of mental acuity. One’s mental acuity is influenced by numerous elements such as memory, focus, and the ability to understand and comprehend.

Mind-altering conditions such as dementia are generally regarded as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently associated as another major factor in mental decline.

The Link Between Your Hearing And Dementia

In fact, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University discovered a connection between loss of hearing, dementia and a loss in cognitive ability. A six year study of 2000 people between the ages of 75-85 concluded that there was a 30 to 40 percent quicker cognitive decline in people who suffer from loss of hearing.

In the study which researchers noticed a decrease in mental capability, memory and attention were two of the aspects outlined. One Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying the importance of loss of hearing just because it’s considered a normal part of aging.

Complications From Hearing Impairments Besides Memory Loss

In a different study, the same researchers found that a case of hearing impairment could not only accelerate the process of cognitive decline, but is more likely to lead to stress, depression or periods of sadness. Additionally, that study’s hearing-impaired individuals were more likely to become hospitalized or injured in a fall.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t have loss of hearing were not as likely to develop dementia than individuals who did have loss of hearing. Additionally, the study found a direct link between the severity of hearing loss and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. People with more severe hearing loss were as much as five times more likely to suffer symptoms of dementia.

But the work undertaken by researchers at Johns Hopkins is hardly the first to stake a claim for the connection between loss of hearing and a lack of cognitive abilities.

International Research Supports a Relationship Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that dementia will be developed more often and sooner by people who suffer from hearing loss than by those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further and looked at age related hearing loss by examining two different causes. Individuals who have normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to develop mental disability than those with central hearing loss. This was determined after researchers studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. Generally, people struggle to comprehend words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

Scores on cognitive tests involving memory and thought were lower in those people who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.

Though the exact reason for the link between loss of hearing and mental impairment is still unknown, researchers are confident in the connection.

The Way Loss of Hearing Can Impact Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory that revolves around the brain’s temporal cortex. In speaking on that potential cause, the study’s lead author highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus situated above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex are involved in comprehension of speech and words.

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and goes through changes as we grow older along with the memory areas of the temporal cortex which could be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What to do if You Have Loss of Hearing

The Italians believe this form of mild mental impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Americans who might be in danger is staggering.

Two of every three people over the age of 75 have lost some ability to hear, with considerable hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Even 14 percent of people ages 45 to 64 are affected by loss of hearing.

Fortunately there are methods to decrease these dangers with a hearing aid, which can provide a considerable enhancement in hearing function for many people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional to find out if you need hearing aids.

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