A term that gets frequently tossed around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. It’s called, by most health care specialistssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several factors that go into the measurement of mental acuity. A person’s mental acuity is influenced by several elements such as memory, focus, and the ability to understand and comprehend.
Mind-altering ailments like dementia are usually regarded as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently linked as another major cause of cognitive decline.
The Link Between Your Hearing And Dementia
In fact, Johns Hopkins University conducted one study which discover a link between dementia, a decline in cognitive ability, and hearing loss. Through a study of 2,000 people function between the ages of 75-84 during a six-year period, researchers concluded that participants who had loss of hearing had a 30 to 40 percent faster decline in cognitive function than those who had normal hearing.
In the study which researchers observed a reduction in cognitive ability, memory and focus were two of the areas highlighted. And though loss of hearing is usually considered a normal part of getting older, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its relevance.
What Are The Problems From Impaired Hearing Beyond Memory Loss?
Not just loss of memory but stress, periods of unhappiness, and depression are also more likely in those that have hearing loss according to another study. In addition, that study’s hearing-impaired individuals 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 loss of hearing at the onset of the study were more inclined to experience dementia than those with normal hearing. And an even more telling stat from this study was that the likelihood of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and loss of hearing had a direct correlation. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more probable in people with more severe hearing loss.
And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of mental ability and hearing loss.
International Research Backs up a Correlation Between Loss of Hearing And Cognitive Decline
Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that dementia will be developed more often and sooner by people who have hearing loss than by people with normal hearing.
One study in Italy went even further and looked at age related hearing loss by examining two different causes. Through the examination of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that individuals with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive disability than those who had normal hearing or peripheral hearing loss. Generally, people struggle to understand words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.
In the Italian study, participants with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had lower scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.
Though researchers were sure about the relationship between hearing loss and mental impairments, the cause responsible for correlation remains a mystery.
The Way Loss of Hearing Can Impact 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 researcher highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus located above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex are involved in comprehension of speech and words.
The theory indicates that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which serves as a receiver of information before processing, along with associated modifications to the memory parts of the temporal cortex, could be the beginning of a loss of neurons in the brain.
What Should You do if You Have Loss of Hearing?
A pre-clinical stage of dementia, according to the Italian research, is related to a mild form of mental impairment. In spite of that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s most definitely something to take seriously. And the number of Americans who might be at risk is staggering.
Out of all people, two of three over the age of 75 have lost some hearing ability, with considerable loss of hearing in 48 million Americans. Hearing loss even affects 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64.
Hearing aids can offer a considerable improvement in hearing function decreasing risks for most people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
To see if you need hearing aids make an appointment with a hearing care professional.