Wooden brain puzzle representing mental decline due to hearing loss.

Cognitive decline and hearing loss, what’s the link? Brain health and hearing loss have a connection which medical science is starting to comprehend. It was found that even minor untreated hearing loss raises your risk of developing cognitive decline.

Researchers believe that there may be a pathological link between these two seemingly unrelated health problems. So, how does hearing loss put you at risk for dementia and how can a hearing test help fight it?

What is dementia?

The Mayo Clinic reveals that dementia is a group of symptoms that alter memory, alter the ability to think clearly, and decrease socialization skills. Alzheimer’s is a common form of cognitive decline most individuals think of when they hear the word dementia. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that affects about five million people in the U.S. Today, medical science has a complete understanding of how ear health alters the danger of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.

How hearing works

In terms of good hearing, every part of the complex ear component matters. As waves of sound vibration travel towards the inner ear, they’re amplified. Electrical signals are transmitted to the brain for decoding by tiny little hairs in the inner ear that shake in response to waves of sound.

Over time, many individuals develop a gradual decline in their ability to hear due to years of trauma to these delicate hair cells. Comprehension of sound becomes much more difficult because of the reduction of electrical impulses to the brain.

This gradual hearing loss is sometimes regarded as a normal and inconsequential part of the aging process, but research shows that’s not the case. Whether the impulses are unclear and jumbled, the brain will try to decipher them anyway. The ears can become strained and the brain fatigued from the added effort to hear and this can eventually lead to a higher risk of developing cognitive decline.

Here are a few disease risk factors with hearing loss in common:

  • Trouble learning new skills
  • Reduction in alertness
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory
  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion
  • Weak overall health

The odds of developing cognitive decline can increase based on the extent of your hearing loss, also. Even slight hearing loss can double the risk of dementia. More advanced hearing loss means three times the risk and somebody with severe, untreated loss of hearing has up to five times the odds of developing dementia. Research by Johns Hopkins University monitored the cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Cognitive and memory issues are 24 percent more likely in people who have hearing loss severe enough to disrupt conversation, according to this research.

Why is a hearing exam important?

Hearing loss affects the general health and that would probably surprise many individuals. For most, the decline is slow so they don’t always recognize there is an issue. As hearing declines, the human brain adapts gradually so it makes it less obvious.

Scheduling routine thorough assessments gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to properly assess hearing health and track any decline as it happens.

Decreasing the risk with hearing aids

Scientists presently believe that the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss has a lot to do with the brain strain that hearing loss causes. Based on that one fact, you might conclude that hearing aids reduce that risk. The stress on your brain will be reduced by using a hearing aid to filter out unwanted background noise while boosting sounds you want to hear. The sounds that you’re hearing will come through without as much effort.

There’s no rule that says people who have normal hearing won’t develop dementia. But scientists think hearing loss speeds up that decline. The key to reducing that risk is regular hearing tests to diagnose and manage gradual hearing loss before it can have an impact on brain health.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test if you’re concerned that you may be coping with hearing loss.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.