Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A phrase that gets commonly thrown 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 the measurement of mental acuity takes into consideration several factors. A person’s mental acuity is impacted by several factors such as memory, focus, and the ability to comprehend and understand.

Along with mind altering illnesses like dementia, hearing loss has also been established as a contributing factor for mental decline.

The Relationship Between Dementia And Your Hearing

In fact, one study conducted by Johns Hopkins University revealed a relationship between dementia, a loss in cognitive ability, and hearing loss. Through a study of 2,000 men and women age 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 mental function than those with normal hearing.

In the study which researchers observed a decrease in mental capability, memory and attention were two of the areas highlighted. And though hearing loss is commonly considered a typical part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its relevance.

Problems From Hearing Impairments Besides Loss of Memory

In another study, those same researchers found that a case of impaired hearing could not only speed up the process of mental decline, but is more likely to result in stress, depression or periods of unhappiness. Hospitalization and injury from a fall were also found to be more likely in this study’s participants.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who suffered from hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more inclined to experience dementia than those who have healthy hearing. And an even more telling stat from this study was that the probability of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and loss of hearing had a direct relationship. Participants with more severe loss of hearing were as much as five times more likely to experience symptoms of dementia.

But the work undertaken by researchers at Johns Hopkins is hardly the first to stake a claim for the link between loss of hearing and a lack of mental abilities.

International Research Supports a Connection Between Loss of Hearing And Mental Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that those with hearing loss developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy went even further by studying two different causes of age-related hearing loss. Through the examination of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that people with central hearing loss were more likely to have a mild cognitive disability than those who had average hearing or peripheral hearing loss. People who have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, generally struggle to understand the words they can hear.

In the Italian study, individuals with lower scores on speech comprehension evaluations also had poorer scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Although researchers were sure about the connection between hearing loss and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation is still unknown.

The Way Loss of Hearing Can Affect 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 play a role in comprehension of speech and words.

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and goes through changes as we get older along with the memory areas of the temporal cortex which could be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What Should You do if You Have Hearing Loss?

The Italians believe this form of mild cognitive impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. Despite that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s certainly something to take seriously. And the number of Us citizens who might be at risk is shocking.

Out of all people, two of three over the age of 75 have lost some hearing ability, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering from what is regarded as significant loss of hearing. Even 14 percent of those ages 45 to 64 are affected by loss of hearing.

Hearing aids can provide a significant 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 research.
Schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist to see if you need hearing aids.

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