Cognitive decline and hearing loss, what’s the link? Brain health and hearing loss have a connection which medical science is starting to understand. Your risk of getting dementia is higher with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.
Experts think that there may be a pathological link between these two seemingly unrelated health problems. So how can a hearing exam help minimize the risk of hearing loss related dementia?
What is dementia?
The Mayo Clinic states that dementia is a group of symptoms that alter memory, alter the ability to think clearly, and reduce socialization skills. People often think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear dementia most likely because it is a prevalent form. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that impacts around five million people in the U.S. These days, medical science has a complete understanding of how hearing health increases the risk of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.
How hearing works
In terms of good hearing, every part of the intricate ear component matters. As waves of sound vibration travel towards the inner ear, they get amplified. Inside the maze of the inner ear, tiny hair cells shake in response to the sound waves to transmit electrical impulses that the brain decodes.
Over time, many individuals develop a progressive decline in their ability to hear due to years of trauma to these delicate hair cells. The result is a reduction in the electrical signals to the brain that makes it difficult to comprehend sound.
Research indicates that this slow loss of hearing isn’t just an inconsequential part of aging. Whether the signals are unclear and jumbled, the brain will attempt to decipher them anyway. That effort puts strain on the organ, making the person struggling to hear more vulnerable to developing cognitive decline.
Here are a few disease risk factors with hearing loss in common:
- Trouble learning new skills
- Impaired memory
- Reduction in alertness
- Weak overall health
The likelihood of developing cognitive decline can increase based on the degree of your hearing loss, too. An individual with just minor hearing loss has double the risk. Hearing loss that is more severe will raise the risk by three times and extremely severe neglected hearing loss can put you at up to a five times higher danger. The cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults were studied by Johns Hopkins University over six years. They found that hearing loss advanced enough to interfere with conversation was 24 percent more likely to result in memory and cognitive problems.
Why a hearing test matters
Not everyone understands how even slight hearing loss affects their general health. Most individuals don’t even know they have hearing loss because it develops so slowly. The human brain is good at adjusting as hearing declines, so it’s not so noticeable.
Scheduling regular comprehensive assessments gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to properly evaluate hearing health and track any decline as it takes place.
Decreasing the risk with hearing aids
Scientists presently believe that the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss is largely based on the brain stress that hearing loss produces. Based on that one fact, you might conclude that hearing aids decrease that risk. A hearing assistance device boosts sound while filtering out background noise that interferes with your hearing and relieves the strain on your brain. With a hearing aid, the brain will not work as hard to understand the audio messages it’s getting.
There is no rule that says people with normal hearing won’t end up with dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss speeds up the decline in the brain, raising the risk of cognitive issues. Having regular hearing tests to identify and treat hearing loss before it gets too serious is key to decreasing that risk.
Contact us today to set up an appointment for a hearing test if you’re worried that you might be dealing with hearing loss.