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What is The Relationship Between Hearing Loss And Mental Acuity?

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 professionals call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, But the measurement of mental acuity takes into account several aspects. Memory, concentration and the ability to understand and comprehend are just a few of the areas that can contribute to a person’s mental acuity.

Mind-altering ailments like dementia are commonly considered the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently associated as another major contributor to mental decline.

The Connection Between Your Hearing And Dementia

In fact, research out of Johns Hopkins University found a relationship between loss of hearing, dementia and a reduction in cognitive function. Through a study of 2,000 people function between the ages of 75-84 during a six-year span, researchers found that participants who suffered from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent faster decrease in cognitive function than those who had normal hearing.

In the study which researchers noted a reduction in mental ability, memory and concentration were two of the aspects outlined. And though hearing loss is often considered a natural part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its relevance.

Loss of Memory is Not The Only Worry With Hearing Impairment

In another study, the same researchers found that a case of impaired hearing could not only speed up the process of cognitive decline, but is more likely to result in stress, depression or periods of sadness. Additionally, that study’s hearing-impaired participants were more likely to become hospitalized or injured in a fall.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who suffered from hearing loss at the onset of the study were more likely to develop dementia than people who have healthy hearing. Additionally, the study discovered a direct correlation between the severity of hearing loss and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in patients with more severe hearing loss.

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

A Link 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 hearing loss than by those with normal hearing.

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

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

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

The Way Hearing Loss Can Affect Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory about the brain’s temporal cortex. In speaking on that potential cause, the study’s lead author highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus situated above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex play a role in comprehension of speech and words.

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and goes through changes as we grow older along with the memory areas of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What to do if You Have Loss of Hearing

A pre-clinical stage of dementia, as reported by the Italian research, is parallel to a mild form of cognitive impairment. In spite of that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s certainly something to take seriously. And it’s shocking the number of Americans who are in danger.

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

Hearing aids can provide a significant improvement in hearing function mitigating risks for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
To find out if you need hearing aids schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist.

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