Hearing Services of Nashville

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A phrase that gets commonly tossed around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. The majority of health care or psychology experts call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several factors that play into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, focus and the ability to understand and comprehend are just a few of the areas that can play a role in one’s mental acuity.

Mind-altering ailments like dementia are commonly thought of as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently associated as another significant cause of cognitive decline.

Between Dementia And Your Hearing What is The Link?

In fact, Johns Hopkins University conducted one study which found a link between dementia, a decline in cognitive ability, and loss of hearing. A six year study of 2000 people between the ages of 75-85 concluded that there was a 30 to 40 percent faster mental decline in individuals who suffer from hearing loss.

Memory and concentration were two of the functions outlined by the study in which researchers noticed a reduction in mental capabilities. And although hearing loss is commonly considered a natural part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying its relevance.

Memory Loss is Not The Only Concern With Hearing Impairment

Not just loss of memory but stress, periods of unhappiness, and depression are also more likely in those that have loss of hearing according to another study. Additionally, that study’s hearing-impaired participants 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 less likely to develop dementia than those who did have loss of hearing. Additionally, the study discovered a direct link between the severity of hearing loss and the likelihood to develop a mind-weakening affliction. Individuals with more extreme loss of hearing were as much as five times more likely to experience symptoms of dementia.

But the work performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins is scarcely the first to stake a claim for the relationship between loss of hearing and a lack of mental abilities.

International Research Supports a Relationship Between Hearing Loss And Mental Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that people with hearing impairments developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy went even further and looked at age related hearing loss by studying two different causes. Individuals with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to have mental impairment than those with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. Typically, people struggle to understand words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

In the Italian study, participants with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had lower scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Though researchers were sure about the relationship between loss of hearing and mental impairments, the cause responsible for correlation is still unknown.

How Can Hearing Loss Affect 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 emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are found above the ear and play a role in the comprehension of spoken words.

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and undergoes 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 Can You do if You Have Loss of Hearing?

The Italians believe this form of mild mental impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should certainly be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s staggering the amount of Americans who are in danger.

Two of every three people have lost some ability to hear if they are older than 75, with considerable hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Loss of hearing even affects 14 percent of those from 45 to 65.

The good news is that there are ways to minimize these risks with a hearing aid, which can offer a significant enhancement in hearing function for most people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
To see if you need hearing aids schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional.

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