Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A phrase that gets commonly tossed around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. Most health care or psychology experts call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, But the measurement of mental acuity takes into account several factors. Memory, concentration and the ability to understand and comprehend are just a few of the factors that can play a role in a person’s mental acuity.

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

Between Dementia And Your Hearing What is The Connection?

In fact, one study conducted by Johns Hopkins University discovered a relationship between loss of hearing, dementia and a loss in cognitive function. Through a study of 2,000 people age 75-84 during a six-year period, researchers concluded that participants who suffered from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent faster decrease in cognitive function than those with normal hearing.

Memory and concentration were two of the areas outlined by the study in which researchers observed a reduction in mental capabilities. And although hearing loss is commonly considered a natural part of getting older, one Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying its importance.

Complications Due to Hearing Impairments Beyond Loss of Memory

Not only loss of memory but stress, periods of sadness, and depression are also more likely in those that have loss of hearing according to another study. Additionally, that study’s hearing-impaired individuals 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 loss of hearing at the onset of the study were more likely to experience dementia than people with normal hearing. Additionally, the study found a direct link between the severity of hearing loss and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in individuals with more severe loss of hearing.

But the work carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins is scarcely the first to stake a claim for the link between loss of hearing and a lack of cognitive aptitude.

International Research Supports a Relationship Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

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

One study in Italy took it a step further and looked at age related hearing loss by studying two different causes. People who have normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to develop cognitive impairment than those with central hearing loss. This was concluded after researchers examined both peripheral and central 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.

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

Although the cause of the link between loss of hearing and mental impairment is still unknown, researchers are confident in the connection.

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 which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are found above the ear and play a role in the comprehension of spoken words.

The theory indicates that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which serves as a receiver of information before processing, alongside concurrent alterations 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 Hearing Loss

A pre-clinical stage of dementia, according to the Italian study, is related to a mild form of cognitive impairment. It should definitely be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Americans who could 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 considerable loss of hearing. Hearing loss even affects 14 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 64.

The good news is that there are methods to minimize these risks with a hearing aid, which can provide a significant enhancement in hearing function for many people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
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