Mental Acuity and Hearing Loss, What is The Connection?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A phrase that gets regularly tossed around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. It’s called, by most health care professionalssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, But the measurement of mental acuity takes into account several aspects. One’s mental acuity is influenced by several elements like memory, focus, and the ability to comprehend and understand.

Besides mind altering conditions like dementia, hearing loss has also been verified as a contributing component in mental decline.

The Link Between Dementia And Your Hearing

In fact, one study out of Johns Hopkins University uncovered a relationship between hearing loss, dementia and a reduction in cognitive function. A six year study of 2000 people from the ages of 75-85 concluded that there was a 30 to 40 percent quicker mental decline in people who suffer from hearing loss.

Memory and concentration were two of the functions outlined by the study in which researchers noted a reduction in cognitive capabilities. And though loss of hearing is usually regarded as a normal part of getting older, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its importance.

Problems From Hearing Impairments Beyond Loss of Memory

In a different study, those same researchers found that a case of hearing impairment could not only speed up the process of mental decline, but is more likely to lead to stress, depression or periods of unhappiness. Hospitalization and injury from a fall were also found to be more likely in this study’s participants.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t have hearing loss were not as likely to develop dementia than those who did have hearing loss. And an even more telling stat from this study was that the probability of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and hearing loss had a direct correlation. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in individuals with more severe hearing loss.

And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also brought attention to the loss of cognitive ability and hearing loss.

International Research Backs up a Correlation Between Loss of Hearing And Cognitive Decline

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

One study in Italy took it a step further and looked at age related hearing loss by studying two different causes. Through the assessment of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers concluded that participants with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive impairment than those who had normal hearing or peripheral hearing loss. Typically, 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 participants who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.

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

The Way Hearing Loss 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 located above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex are involved in comprehension of speech and words.

The theory indicates that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which serves as a receiver of information before processing, along with associated alterations to the memory parts of the temporal cortex, could be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What Should You do if You Have Loss of Hearing?

The Italians think this type of mild cognitive impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s staggering the amount of Us citizens who are at risk.

Out of all people, two of three over the age of 75 have lost some ability to hear, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is regarded as considerable loss of hearing. Hearing loss even impacts 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64.

Hearing aids can offer a considerable improvement in hearing function decreasing risks for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist to see if you need hearing aids.

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