Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

December 1, 2022
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Studies show that people with hearing loss can be more than twice as likely to experience cognitive decline. Cognitive decline is the key characteristic of conditions like dementia which is irreversible and takes a toll on the ability to perform everyday cognitive functions. Over 48 million people experience hearing loss which is the third most pervasive chronic health issue today. Hearing loss can impact health in numerous ways including increasing health risks like cognitive decline. This highlights the importance of treatment which not only transforms hearing health but strengthens brain health, reducing the risk of cognitive decline.

Link Between Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

Extensive research investigates the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Studies show that there is a correlation, revealing that hearing loss can increase the risk of cognitive decline. A significant study that looks at this link was published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

This study involved examining the cognitive and hearing health of 10,107 people. Participants were evaluated for 8 years and at the onset of the study, did not have any cognitive impairments. After 8 years, researchers found cognitive decline was:

  • 30% higher for people with mild hearing loss

  • 42% higher for people with moderate hearing loss

  • 54% higher for people with severe hearing loss

These findings show a major link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. This data also highlights that the greater the degree of hearing impairment, the higher the risk is for experiencing cognitive decline. This study supports findings from substantial research that shows that hearing loss is a risk factor for cognitive decline.

Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health

The process of hearing doesn’t only happen in the ears but it happens in the brain as well. There are specific areas of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information. These areas can become impacted by hearing loss in ways that contribute to cognitive decline. This includes:

  • Brain atrophy: as a result of receiving less auditory information and having less processing to do, portions of the brain can shrink. The areas responsible for speech and language comprehension become inactive and this can lead to a loss of neurons and/or restructuring of neural networks which contributes to cognitive decline.

  • Cognitive overload: the brain often works harder in trying to search for and process sound signals. Other parts of the brain can intervene and try to compensate for hearing loss. This added labor and energy can be taxing and also lead to cognitive overload which overworks the brain and can lead to cognitive decline.

  • Social withdrawal: hearing loss takes a toll on communication and to cope, people often avoid conversations as much as possible. This includes spending less time with others, participating in activities, and avoiding social gatherings. Social withdrawal not only contributes to depressive symptoms but it also means less engagement and stimulation for the brain which can contribute to cognitive decline.

These effects of untreated hearing loss can significantly take a toll on brain health. Cognitive decline increases the risk of developing conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. It is important to intervene early and address any symptoms you may be experiencing. Treating hearing loss offers countless benefits including reducing the risk of cognitive decline.

Treatment Reduces Risk of Cognitive Decline

Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated that not only benefits hearing but also overall health. Hearing aids are the most common way hearing loss is treated. Research shows that hearing aids can strengthen cognitive functions, improving brain health and reducing the risk of cognitive decline.

A recent study that examines the impact of hearing aids on brain health was conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne. Researchers assessed the cognitive capacities of nearly 100 people before and after wearing hearing aids. They found that “97% of participants showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function (mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks)”. This reveals that hearing aids significantly improved cognitive functions. Strengthened brain health reduces the risk of cognitive decline and associated conditions.

Prioritize Your Hearing Health Today

The first step you can take to prioritize your hearing health is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. This allows us to comprehensively assess your hearing capacities and identify any symptoms that may need to be addressed. Contact us today!