What’s the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline? Brain health and hearing loss have a link which medical science is starting to comprehend. It was discovered that even minor untreated hearing loss raises your risk of developing dementia.
Researchers believe that there might be a pathological connection between these two seemingly unrelated health issues. So, how does loss of hearing put you at risk for dementia and how can a hearing exam help fight it?
What is dementia?
Dementia is a condition that reduces memory ability, thinking, and socialization skills, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. Alzheimer’s is a common form of cognitive decline the majority of people think of when they hear the word dementia. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that affects about five million people in the U.S. Exactly how hearing health impacts the risk of dementia is finally well grasped by scientists.
How hearing works
In terms of 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. Inside the labyrinth of the inner ear, tiny hair cells shake in response to the sound waves to send electrical signals that the brain decodes.
As time passes, many individuals develop a gradual decline in their ability to hear due to years of damage to these delicate hair cells. Comprehension of sound becomes much more difficult due to the reduction of electrical impulses to the brain.
This progressive hearing loss is sometimes considered a normal and inconsequential part of the aging process, but research suggests that’s not the case. Whether the signals are unclear and jumbled, the brain will attempt to decode them anyway. That effort puts stress on the ear, making the individual struggling to hear more vulnerable to developing cognitive decline.
Here are several disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:
- Memory impairment
- Overall diminished health
- Reduction in alertness
- Inability to master new tasks
And the more significant your hearing loss the higher your risk of cognitive decline. Even slight hearing loss can double the risk of dementia. More advanced hearing loss means three times the risk and a person with severe, untreated loss of hearing has up to five times the odds of developing dementia. The cognitive skills of over 2,000 older adults were studied by Johns Hopkins University over six years. They discovered that hearing loss advanced enough to hinder conversation was 24 percent more likely to cause memory and cognitive issues.
Why a hearing assessment matters
Hearing loss affects the overall health and that would most likely surprise many individuals. For most, the decline is progressive so they don’t always recognize there is an issue. The human brain is good at adjusting as hearing declines, so it is less obvious.
Scheduling regular comprehensive exams gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to properly evaluate hearing health and track any decline as it takes place.
Decreasing the danger with hearing aids
Scientists currently believe that the relationship between cognitive decline and hearing loss is largely based on the brain stress that hearing loss produces. Based on that one fact, you might conclude that hearing aids reduce that risk. The stress on your brain will be reduced by using a hearing aid to filter out unwanted background noise while boosting sounds you want to hear. The sounds that you’re hearing will come through without as much effort.
Individuals who have normal hearing can still possibly get dementia. But scientists believe hearing loss speeds up that decline. The key to reducing that risk is routine hearing tests to diagnose and treat gradual hearing loss before it can have an affect on brain health.
Call us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test if you’re concerned that you may be dealing with hearing loss.