The Relationship Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

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Going through the process of recognizing, testing and treating a hearing loss can be challenging, and often the best news is that there are treatment options that can delay or prevent further damage. Regardless of your age, any hearing loss can have several impacts.

Over the last few years, there have been studies performed at Johns Hopkins that indicate that an incidence of hearing loss is a decline in your cognitive abilities. There is further evidence that hearing loss also impacts our brain tissue. These test results were also performed and reported by Johns Hopkins. And there is still good news! Research exists that indicates that hearing aids and other treatments, can delay and sometimes prevent the onset of dementia in older clients.

As hearing care providers, we know this information sounds scary and intimidating. Let’s consider the testing further and learn about ways we can work together to ensure any impact on you is minimal.

Silent Impacts of Hearing Loss

As we all know, the obvious impact of hearing loss is our verbal communication efforts. You may find it interesting to note that hair cells are also involved in our high-frequency hearing abilities, which are essential to the way we perceive speech. On top of that, background noises, general traffic noises and people trying to talk over each other only adds obstacles to hearing a normal conversation.

A hearing loss causes our brains to use more of our brain resources to listen to the current conversation, when those resources are more typically used to help us understand the messages being relayed or databases retained in our memory. To put it more simply, because you are expending more effort to hear, at the same time, other areas of our brain are reacting to the effort. It includes things like a change in pupil dilation, stress responses, and weaker communicative performance. In short, this all leads to the conclusion that it isn’t our ears that hear, but our brains via control of the auditory system.

The Bigger Picture

What’s more interesting is the fact that this information, suggests that the rational connection between hearing loss and our thinking skills, may lead to further implications that it’s also related to the depression and loss of social interaction many of us experience when we have a hearing loss. It could also be that the expected nervous system aging, is a natural progression that creates dementia. It has been more clearly determined that hearing loss and a decrease in cognitively is most certainly engrained in our brains.

With that significant finding, neuroscientists can now more efficiently study how our brain leads to those effects. Tests of this nature are being performed via the examination of MRIs. These studies support the fact that there is a “trickle down” impact that a hearing loss also affects neural activities in our brains that support both cognition and perception. Studies of this nature need to be performed on a larger scale and longer terms to ensure more clearly designated brain impacts.

Avoiding social situations is an inherent part of hearing loss because of the discomfort felt by the individual, which may lead to a decline in physical activity and emotional wellbeing and that can mediate the correlation between hearing and brain activity. These are exciting findings friends!!

Confirmation and Recommended Actions

All we can confirm subsequent to the Johns Hopkins studies is that hearing-impaired individuals attempt to understand speech that is impacted by sound or language; furthermore, there is evidence that the link between hearing loss and cognitive ability does exist. In addition, the possibility of a link between hearing loss and dementia potentially exists.

What should you do in reaction to this news? If you have any suspicion at all that you or someone you love is experiencing any hearing loss, regardless of how small it may appear to be, please see a hearing care provider to be tested and treated accordingly.

It is clear that a hearing aid will help you hear better and lower the need to pull from other resources in your brain, thereby reducing the risk of dementia.


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