Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic medical condition people live with today. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss reduces capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. This can impact everyday life in numerous ways including straining communication, relationships, and social life. Untreated hearing loss can also increase health risks. Extensive research shows that hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive decline.
Link Between Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline
Substantial research shows a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Studies show that people with hearing loss can be more likely to experience cognitive decline. A major study that examines this link was published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers assessed the cognitive and heating capacities for 10,107 people over a period of 8 years. At the beginning of the study, participants did not have any cognitive issues. By the end of the study, researchers found that 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
This data highlights two important findings: people with hearing loss were much more likely to experience cognitive decline compared to people without hearing loss and the greater the hearing loss, the higher the risk was of cognitive decline. This study supports further research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline.
Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health
Hearing loss not only occurs in the ears but also the brain. There are specific areas of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information. Experts suggest that these areas can be impacted in a few ways that contribute to cognitive decline. This includes:
- Brain atrophy: studies have shown that the portion of the brain responsible for speech and language comprehension can shrink as a result of receiving less auditory information. These areas become underutilized and inactive which can lead to a loss of neurons, change neural networks, and shrink these areas of the brain.
- Cognitive overload: to compensate for hearing loss, the brain often works harder in searching for and trying to process auditory signals. This can include other parts of the brain stepping in to assist with this which leads to cognitive overload.
- Social withdrawal: a major effect of hearing loss is social withdrawal. Because conversations become challenging to engage in, people can avoid them as much as possible. This means skipping out on social events, spending less time with others, and staying in more. Social withdrawal increases isolation and also results in less stimulation and engagement for the brain.
These effects of hearing loss can significantly impact brain health and contribute to the development of cognitive decline. Fortunately, there are effective treatment options that can prevent these outcomes.
Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss
The first step towards treating hearing loss and also strengthening brain health is getting your hearing tested. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures hearing capacities in both ears. This identifies hearing loss and the degree of impairment you could be experiencing. Once your hearing needs are known, your hearing healthcare provider can tailor treatment to meet your specific needs. Hearing aids are the most common treatment – these are electronic devices that are designed to absorb, amplify, and process speech as well as sound. The significant support hearing aids alleviate symptoms and maximize hearing capacity.
Hearing aids offer countless life-changing benefits including strengthening communication, improving relationships, enriching social life, and reducing health risks like cognitive decline. Studies show that hearing aids strengthen brain health by providing ample support. This includes a 2020 study which examined the impact hearing aids have on brain health. Researchers did this by evaluating the cognitive health of nearly 100 people. These participants were assessed before wearing hearing aids and 18 months after. Researchers 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 study supports other research findings that highlight how hearing aids support cognitive functions and improve brain health.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. Our practice offers a range of quality services and solutions that can transform your hearing health and wellness.