Hearing Loss And Mental Acuity, What is The Connection?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

“Mental acuity” is a term that gets regularly thrown around in context with getting older. 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 factors. Memory, focus and the ability to understand and comprehend are just a few of the areas that can play a role in a person’s mental acuity.

Mind-altering ailments such as dementia are commonly regarded as the cause of a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently linked as another major factor in mental decline.

The Relationship Between Your Hearing And Dementia

In fact, Johns Hopkins University carried out one study that discovered a relationship between hearing loss, dementia and a reduction in cognitive ability. Through a study of 2,000 men and women age 75-84 over a six-year period, researchers concluded that individuals who suffered from loss of hearing had a 30 to 40 percent quicker decline in cognitive function than those who had normal hearing.

Memory and concentration were two of the areas highlighted by the study in which researchers noticed a reduction in cognitive abilities. And though loss of hearing is usually regarded as a natural part of getting older, one Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying its importance.

Loss of Memory is Not The Only Worry With Impaired Hearing

In a different study, those same researchers found that a case of impaired hearing could not only speed up the process of mental decline, but is more likely to result in stress, depression or periods of unhappiness. In addition, 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 suffered from hearing loss at the onset of the study were more inclined to develop dementia than those who have normal hearing. And an even more revealing stat from this study was that the likelihood 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 people with more extreme hearing loss.

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

A Connection Between Mental Decline And Hearing Loss is Supported by International Research

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

One study in Italy took it a step further by studying two separate causes of age-related hearing loss. Individuals with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to develop mental impairment than those with central hearing loss. This was determined after researchers examined both peripheral and central hearing loss. People with central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, usually struggle to comprehend the words they can hear.

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

Even though the exact reason for the connection between hearing loss and mental impairment is still not known, researchers are confident in the connection.

How Can Loss of Hearing Impact Mental Acuity?

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory about the brain’s temporal cortex. When talking about that potential cause, the study’s lead author highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are found above the ear and are involved in the recognition of spoken words.

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

If You Have Hearing Loss, What Should You do?

The Italians think this kind 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 shocking the number of Americans who are at risk.

Out of all people, two of three have lost some ability to hear if they are over the age of 75, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is regarded as significant hearing loss. Even 14 percent of people ages 45 to 64 are affected by loss of hearing.

Fortunately there are ways to minimize these dangers with a hearing aid, which can provide a significant improvement in hearing function for most people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Make an appointment with a hearing care specialist to find out if you need hearing aids.

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