A phrase that gets commonly thrown around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. It’s called, by most health care professionalssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several factors that play into the measurement of mental acuity. A person’s mental acuity is affected by several factors like memory, concentration, and the ability to comprehend and understand.
Mind-altering conditions like dementia are commonly considered the cause of a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently linked as another significant cause of mental decline.
The Relationship Between Your Hearing And Dementia
In fact, one study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found a connection between dementia, a reduction in cognitive ability, and hearing loss. A six year study of 2000 people from the ages of 75-85 found that there was a 30 to 40 percent quicker cognitive decline in individuals who suffer from hearing loss.
In the study which researchers noticed a reduction in cognitive ability, memory and attention were two of the areas highlighted. One Johns Hopkins professor warned against downplaying the importance of hearing loss just because it’s considered a normal aspect of aging.
Loss of Memory is Not The Only Worry With Impaired Hearing
In another study, those same researchers discovered that a case of hearing impairment could not only speed up the process of cognitive decline, but is more likely to lead to stress, depression or periods of unhappiness. 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 didn’t have hearing loss were not as likely to develop dementia than those who did have loss of hearing. And an even more telling statistic from this study was that the likelihood of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and loss of hearing had a direct correlation. Participants with more extreme hearing loss were as much as five times more likely to experience symptoms of dementia.
And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of mental ability and hearing loss.
A Connection 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 frequently and earlier by people who suffer from loss of hearing than by those with normal hearing.
One study in Italy went even further by examining two different causes of age-related hearing loss. Through the assessment of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers concluded that participants with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive disability than those who had average hearing or peripheral hearing loss. Typically, people struggle to understand words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.
Scores on cognitive tests pertaining to memory and thought were lower in those people who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.
Though researchers were confident in the link between loss of hearing and mental impairments, the cause responsible for correlation remains a mystery.
The Way Hearing Loss Can Impact Mental Acuity
However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory that revolves around the brain’s temporal cortex. In speaking on that potential cause, the study’s lead researcher emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are situated above the ear and are involved in the recognition of spoken words.
The theory suggests that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which serves as a receiver of information prior to processing, alongside concurrent modifications to the memory parts of the temporal cortex, could 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 mental impairment. It should certainly be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Americans who may be at risk is shocking.
Two of every three people have lost some ability to hear if they are older than 75, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is regarded as considerable loss of hearing. Even 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64 are affected by hearing loss.
The good news is that there are methods to mitigate these risks with a hearing aid, which can provide a significant enhancement in hearing function for most people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
To find out if you need hearing aids make an appointment with a hearing care specialist.