Our brains are remarkable machines that process and manage countless tasks and bodily functions every minute of every day. But when we can’t hear well (due to damage in the ears themselves), our brains can receive distorted signals. This forces the brain to work harder to understand any incoming messages - and that hard work may come at a price, according to growing bodies of research.
The strain of hearing loss is not uncommon by any means, of course. At least 28 million U.S. adults have hearing loss - and after hypertension and arthritis, it is the most common chronic health problem in older individuals. And often, this hearing loss is seen as an inevitable part of aging. Unfortunately, this mindset minimizes growing medical concerns about the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss.
What Do We Know about Hearing Loss & The Brain?
Currently we know that there is a connection between hearing loss and a decrease in cognitive functions. Older adults with hearing loss also face an increased risk of dementia.
We know this from a study of 1,984 older adults, which found that people who initially had hearing loss were 24 percent more likely than their age-mates with normal hearing to experience cognitive decline within six years.
The New York Times reported on the study that, “[Participant’s] cognitive abilities declined up to 40 percent faster than others with normal hearing. They had greater problems with brain functions like thinking and memory, developing them on average three years earlier than people their age with normal hearing. And the more severe their hearing loss at the start of the study, the greater their cognitive loss over time.”
Correlation does not equal causation, stress the researchers - but the study absolutely highlighted some sort of connection, which is under additional study by hearing researchers.
Who’s at Risk of Hearing Loss?
Anyone can suffer from hearing loss, which occurs due to damage within the inner ear. This damage can happen over time due to natural wear and tear of the ears.
However, it’s important to note that our lifestyles are more and more likely to contribute to this long-term damage. The World Health Organization notes that about “1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events.”
What Does this Mean to You?
While the specific nature of hearing loss’ link to the brain is still being researched, we know that untreated hearing loss can also present with increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Early intervention in hearing assistance, however, may help to reduce the severity of these risks.
Hearing aids (which may fit inside the ear canal or over the back of the ear), cochlear implants (for profound sensorineural loss through damage to the cochlea), and other implantable devices such as Bone Conduction Hearing Aids (which can assist with conductive hearing losses) may all help to reduce the risk of dementia and behavioral issues for people with hearing loss.
Prevention is key, however, so it is important to undergo regular hearing tests and to work with expert ear doctors to determine if a hearing device of some sort could be beneficial to your health overall.
Why Should You Visit Francis Audiology?
Francis Audiology Associates is a local, independent, community-oriented practice that offers a full range of Diagnostic and Rehabilitative Audiological Services. Patients who seek treatment from Francis Audiology can count on receiving personalized, quality care from a team of skilled and dedicated Audiologists and hearing care professionals. When you visit our practice, you can expect compassionate care and in-depth explanations and suggestions regarding your health!
Ready to talk to a professional about the impact hearing loss may have on you now or in the future? Contact our offices online (or by phone) and request your appointment today!