For years, hearing loss was thought of like gray hair and wrinkles, just another inconsequential part of aging. But researchers suspect that hearing plays an important role in brain health as we age, and numerous studies are beginning to back up these claims.
Hearing Loss and Dementia Research
Dr. Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has conducted several studies examining the link between cognitive problems and hearing loss.
His 2013 study monitored the cognitive abilities of 2,000 participants with a median age of 77 for a period of six years. His research team found that those who began the study with diagnosed hearing loss were 24 percent more likely to see a decrease in their cognitive abilities, including concentration, memory and planning skills, than those with normal hearing. The takeaway from this study is that hearing loss can speed up age-related cognitive decline.
Lin’s 2011 study focused specifically on dementia. The researchers monitored the cognitive health of 639 participants for more than 12 years. They found that the worse their initial hearing loss was, the more likely they were to develop dementia. Those with moderate hearing loss were three times more likely to see a decline in their cognitive ability than those with normal hearing. While these results are shocking, Lin points out that in no uncertain terms does this mean if you have moderate hearing loss you are certain to develop dementia.
How Hearing Loss May Contribute to Dementia
While the research indicates that untreated hearing loss is linked to an increase in cognitive decline, experts are still looking to figure out why. Lin suggests four possibilities:
- There is a physiological pathway (such as high blood pressure) that contributes to both hearing loss and cognitive decline.
- An increase in constantly trying to hear and understand puts added stress on the brain.
- Hearing loss may affect the brain structure in a way that contributes to cognitive problems
- Hearing loss leads to an increase in social isolation; long periods of social isolation are a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.
There is a chance that any combination of these factors plays some role in the connection between untreated hearing loss and an increase in cognitive decline. New research is being conducted to get more information.
Until then, Lin recommends seeking treatment for your hearing loss as soon as possible.
To learn more about the risks of untreated hearing loss or to schedule an appointment with an experienced audiologist, contact Victory Hearing & Balance Center today.