What’s the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline? Brain health and hearing loss have a link which medical science is beginning to understand. It was discovered that even mild neglected hearing loss raises your risk of developing dementia.
Scientists think that there might be a pathological connection between these two seemingly unrelated health problems. So how can a hearing exam help decrease the danger of hearing loss related dementia?
Dementia, what is it?
The Mayo Clinic says that dementia is a group of symptoms that alter memory, alter the ability to think clearly, and decrease socialization skills. Individuals often think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear dementia probably because it is a common form. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that affects about five million people in the U.S. Exactly how hearing health impacts the danger of dementia is finally well understood by scientists.
How hearing works
In terms of good hearing, every part of the complex ear component matters. Waves of sound go into the ear canal and are amplified as they travel toward the inner ear. Inside the labyrinth of the inner ear, little hair cells vibrate in response to the sound waves to transmit electrical impulses that the brain decodes.
Over the years these little hairs can become permanently damaged from exposure to loud noise. Comprehension of sound becomes a lot harder because of the reduction of electrical signals to the brain.
This progressive hearing loss is sometimes considered a normal and insignificant part of the aging process, but research suggests that’s not accurate. Whether the signals are unclear and jumbled, the brain will attempt to decode them anyway. That effort puts stress on the ear, making the person struggling to hear more vulnerable to developing dementia.
Loss of hearing is a risk factor for many diseases that result in:
- Inability to master new tasks
- Impaired memory
- Reduction in alertness
- Weak overall health
The risk of developing dementia can increase depending on the severity of your hearing loss, too. Someone with just minor hearing loss has double the risk. More significant hearing loss means three times the risk and someone with severe, untreated loss of hearing has up to five times the risk of developing cognitive decline. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University tracked the cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. They revealed that hearing loss significant enough to hinder conversation was 24 percent more likely to result in memory and cognitive issues.
Why is a hearing assessment worthwhile?
Not everyone realizes how even minor hearing loss impacts their overall health. For most people, the decline is slow so they don’t always realize there is a problem. The human brain is good at adapting as hearing declines, so it is less noticeable.
Scheduling routine thorough assessments gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to effectively assess hearing health and track any decline as it occurs.
Reducing the danger with hearing aids
The present hypothesis is that stress on the brain from hearing loss plays a significant part in cognitive decline and different types of dementia. So hearing aids should be capable of decreasing the risk, based on that fact. A hearing assistance device boosts sound while filtering out background noise that disrupts your hearing and eases the stress on your brain. The sounds that you’re hearing will come through without as much effort.
There’s no rule that says individuals with normal hearing won’t end up with dementia. But scientists think hearing loss accelerates that decline. The key to reducing that risk is regular hearing tests to diagnose and manage gradual hearing loss before it can have an affect on brain health.
Call us today to set up an appointment for a hearing exam if you’re concerned that you may be coping with hearing loss.