Mental Acuity and Hearing Loss, What is The Connection?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

“Mental acuity” is a phrase that gets frequently tossed around in regards to aging. It’s called, by most health care expertssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, But the measurement of mental acuity takes into consideration several aspects. Memory, concentration and the ability to understand and comprehend are just a few of the factors that can contribute to a person’s mental acuity.

Mind-altering illnesses such as dementia are commonly thought of as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently associated as another significant cause of cognitive decline.

The Connection Between Your Hearing And Dementia

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

Memory and concentration were two of the functions highlighted by the study in which researchers noted a reduction in mental capabilities. One Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying the relevance of hearing loss just because it’s regarded as a normal aspect of aging.

What Are The Problems From Hearing Impairment Beyond Memory Loss?

Not only memory loss but stress, periods of sadness, and depression are also more likely in those that have loss of hearing 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 beginning of the study were more inclined to develop dementia than those who have healthy hearing. And an even more telling statistic from this study was that the likelihood of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and loss of hearing had a direct relationship. Participants with more extreme loss of hearing were as much as five times more likely to suffer symptoms of dementia.

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

International Research Supports a Relationship Between Loss of Hearing And Mental Decline

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 have loss of hearing than by people with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further by studying two different causes of age-related hearing loss. Through the assessment of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that participants with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive impairment than those with average hearing or peripheral hearing loss. People with central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, commonly struggle to comprehend the words they can hear.

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

Even though researchers were confident in the link between loss of hearing and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation is still unknown.

The Way Hearing Loss Can Affect Mental Acuity

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

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and undergoes 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 to do if You Have Hearing Loss

The Italians believe this kind of mild cognitive impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. Despite that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s most definitely something to be serious about And the number of Americans who might be in danger is staggering.

Out of all people, two of three have lost some hearing ability if they are over the age of 75, with significant hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Loss of hearing even impacts 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64.

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

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