Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

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

Along with mind altering conditions like dementia, hearing loss has also been established as a contributing component in mental decline.

The Connection Between Your Hearing And Dementia

In fact, research out of Johns Hopkins University discovered a connection between loss of hearing, dementia and a loss in cognitive function. Through a study of 2,000 people age 75-84 during a six-year period, researchers found that participants who suffered from loss of hearing had a 30 to 40 percent quicker decline in mental function than those with normal hearing.

In the study which researchers observed a reduction in mental capability, memory and attention were two of the areas highlighted. And though loss of hearing is usually regarded as a typical part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its importance.

Complications Due to Hearing Impairments Beyond Memory Loss

Not only memory loss but stress, periods of unhappiness, and depression are also more likely in those that have hearing loss according to another study. 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 suffered from hearing loss at the onset of the study were more inclined to develop dementia than those with normal hearing. And an even more revealing statistic from this study was that the likelihood of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and loss of hearing had a direct correlation. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in individuals with more severe loss of hearing.

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

A Correlation Between Mental Decline And Hearing Loss is Backed 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 often and earlier by people who suffer from loss of hearing than by people with average hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further and looked at age related hearing loss by studying two different causes. People who have normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to have cognitive impairment than people with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. People who have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, commonly struggle to understand the words they can hear.

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

Although researchers were confident in the relationship between hearing loss and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation remains a mystery.

How Can Hearing Loss 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 researcher emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are positioned 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 get older along with the memory parts of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What Can You do if You Have Loss of Hearing?

The Italians think this kind of mild cognitive impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should certainly be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Americans who may be at risk is staggering.

Two of every three people over the age of 75 have lost some ability to hear, with considerable hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Hearing loss even affects 14 percent of those from 45 to 65.

Fortunately there are methods to mitigate these risks with a hearing aid, which can offer a significant improvement 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 specialist.

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