Cognitive decline and hearing loss, what’s the link? Medical science has found a connection between brain health and hearing loss. Your risk of getting cognitive decline is increased with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.
Experts think that there may be a pathological connection between these two seemingly unrelated health problems. So how can a hearing test help minimize the danger of hearing loss related dementia?
Dementia, what is it?
Dementia is a condition that decreases memory ability, clear thinking, and socialization skills, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. Alzheimer’s is a prevalent type of cognitive decline most people think of when they hear the word dementia. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that affects around five million people in the U.S. Precisely how hearing health effects the risk of dementia is finally well understood by scientists.
How hearing works
The ear components are very complex and each one matters in relation to good hearing. As waves of sound vibration travel towards the inner ear, they’re amplified. Inside the labyrinth of the inner ear, tiny hair cells shake in response to the sound waves to send electrical impulses that the brain translates.
Over time, many individuals develop a slow decline in their ability to hear due to years of damage to these delicate hair cells. The outcome is a reduction in the electrical signals to the brain that makes it difficult to understand sound.
Research reveals that this gradual loss of hearing isn’t only an inconsequential part of aging. The brain tries to decode any signals sent by the ear even if they are jumbled or unclear. That effort puts stress on the ear, making the person struggling to hear more vulnerable to developing cognitive decline.
Here are several disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:
- Weak overall health
- Inability to master new tasks
- Impaired memory
- Reduction in alertness
And the more extreme your hearing loss the greater your risk of dementia. Even mild hearing loss can double the danger of cognitive decline. Hearing loss that is more significant will bring the risk up by three times and extremely severe untreated hearing loss can put you at up to a five times higher risk. Research by Johns Hopkins University monitored the cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Memory and cognitive problems are 24 percent more likely in people who have hearing loss severe enough to disrupt conversation, according to this study.
Why a hearing exam matters
Hearing loss affects the general health and that would probably surprise many people. For most people, the decline is progressive so they don’t always recognize there is an issue. As hearing declines, the human brain adapts gradually so it makes it less noticeable.
We will be able to effectively assess your hearing health and track any changes as they occur with regular hearing exams.
Using hearing aids to reduce the danger
The current hypothesis is that stress on the brain from hearing loss plays a big part in cognitive decline and different forms of dementia. So hearing aids should be able to reduce the risk, based on that fact. The strain on your brain will be reduced by using a hearing aid to filter out undesirable background noise while boosting sounds you want to hear. With a hearing aid, the brain will not work so hard to comprehend the sounds it’s getting.
There’s no rule that says individuals with normal hearing won’t develop dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss quickens the decline in the brain, increasing the risk of cognitive problems. The key to reducing that risk is routine hearing exams to diagnose and manage gradual hearing loss before it can have an impact on brain health.
If you’re worried that you may be dealing with hearing loss, call us today to schedule your hearing assessment.