Wooden brain puzzle representing mental decline due to hearing loss.

What’s the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline? Medical science has connected the dots between brain health and hearing loss. It was found that even mild neglected hearing impairment increases your risk of developing cognitive decline.

Experts believe that there might be a pathological connection between these two seemingly unrelated health issues. So, how does loss of hearing put you at risk for dementia and how can a hearing exam help fight it?

Dementia, what is it?

Dementia is a condition that diminishes memory ability, clear thinking, and socialization skills, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. People often think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear dementia probably because it is a common form. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that impacts around five million people in the U.S. Precisely how hearing health impacts the danger of dementia is finally well understood by scientists.

How hearing works

In terms of good hearing, every part of the intricate ear mechanism matters. As waves of sound vibration move towards the inner ear, they get amplified. Inside the labyrinth of the inner ear, little hair cells vibrate in response to the sound waves to transmit electrical impulses that the brain translates.

Over the years these little hairs can become permanently damaged from exposure to loud noise. The outcome is a decrease in the electrical impulses to the brain that makes it difficult to comprehend sound.

Research reveals that this gradual loss of hearing isn’t simply an inconsequential part of aging. Whether the impulses are unclear and jumbled, the brain will try to decipher them anyway. That effort puts stress on the ear, making the person struggling to hear more vulnerable to developing cognitive decline.

Loss of hearing is a risk factor for lots of diseases that result in:

  • Trouble learning new skills
  • Impaired memory
  • Depression
  • Reduction in alertness
  • Weak overall health
  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion

The likelihood of developing cognitive decline can increase depending on the severity of your hearing loss, too. Even mild hearing loss can double the danger of dementia. Hearing loss that is more significant will raise the risk by three times and extremely severe untreated hearing loss can put you at up to a five times greater risk. Research by Johns Hopkins University monitored the cognitive skills of more than 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. They revealed that hearing loss significant enough to hinder conversation was 24 percent more likely to cause memory and cognitive problems.

Why is a hearing exam important?

Hearing loss impacts the general health and that would probably surprise many people. For most people, the decline is gradual so they don’t always know there is an issue. The human brain is good at adjusting as hearing declines, so it is less obvious.

Scheduling regular thorough exams gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to correctly evaluate hearing health and monitor any decline as it takes place.

Decreasing the risk with hearing aids

The present hypothesis is that strain on the brain from hearing loss plays a major role in cognitive decline and different kinds of dementia. So hearing aids should be able to reduce the risk, based on that fact. A hearing assistance device amplifies sound while filtering out background noise that impedes your hearing and eases the strain on your brain. With a hearing aid, the brain will not work as hard to comprehend the audio messages it’s receiving.

There is no rule that says people who have normal hearing won’t end up with dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss quickens the decline in the brain, increasing the chances of cognitive problems. Getting routine hearing exams to identify and deal with hearing loss before it gets too serious is key to decreasing that risk.

If you’re worried that you might be suffering from hearing loss, give us a call today to schedule your hearing evaluation.

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