Hearing Loss And Mental Acuity, What is The Link?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets frequently tossed around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. Most health care or psychology professionals call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several aspects that play into the measurement of mental acuity. A person’s mental acuity is affected by several elements such as memory, concentration, and the ability to comprehend and understand.

Mind-altering conditions such as dementia are usually thought of as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently associated as another significant cause of cognitive decline.

The Relationship Between Dementia And Your Hearing

In fact, research out of Johns Hopkins University uncovered a connection between hearing loss, dementia and a reduction in cognitive function. A six year study of 2000 people between the ages of 75-85 found that there was a 30 to 40 percent faster mental decline in individuals who had from loss of hearing.

Memory and concentration were two of the functions outlined by the study in which researchers observed a reduction in cognitive capabilities. And though loss of hearing is often regarded as a normal part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying its significance.

Complications From Hearing Impairments Besides Loss of Memory

In another study, those same researchers found that a case of hearing impairment could not only speed up the process of cognitive decline, but is more likely to result in stress, depression or periods of sadness. In addition, 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 suffered from hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more inclined to experience dementia than people who have normal hearing. And an even more telling statistic from this study was that the probability 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 patients with more extreme hearing loss.

And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of mental aptitude and hearing loss.

A Correlation 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 those with hearing impairments developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further and investigated age related hearing loss by examining two separate causes. People who have normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to have mental disability than people with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. People with central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, commonly struggle to comprehend the words they can hear.

Scores on cognitive tests involving memory and thought were lower in participants who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.

Even though the cause of the relationship between loss of hearing and cognitive impairment is still not known, researchers are confident in the connection.

The Way Hearing Loss Can Affect Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory that revolves around the brain’s temporal cortex. When talking about that potential cause, the study’s lead researcher emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus located above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex play a role in the recognition of speech and words.

The auditory cortex functions as a receiver of information and undergoes changes as we grow older along with the memory parts of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What to do if You Have Hearing Loss

A pre-clinical stage of dementia, as reported by the Italian study, is parallel to a mild form of cognitive impairment. Despite that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s most definitely something to take seriously. And the number of Americans who might be at risk is shocking.

Two out of every three people over the age of 75 have lost some hearing ability, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is considered to be significant hearing loss. Even 14 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 64 are impacted by loss of hearing.

Hearing aids can provide a significant improvement in hearing function mitigating dangers for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Make an appointment with a hearing care specialist to see if you need hearing aids.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.