Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

Jesse Western

Hearing loss is a common part of aging. In fact, according to the National Institute on Ageing, one in three people over the age of 65 suffer from hearing loss, while within ten years that number rises to half of all seniors. Knowing the extreme likeliness that you or your loved one may be dealing with hearing loss as you advance in age, it is a good idea to get an annual hearing test to monitor your hearing health. Untreated hearing loss has been connected to many health problems for seniors, including cognitive decline.

What is Cognitive Decline?

Cognitive decline happens in stages. Mild cognitive Impairment (MCI) is common with age. Often beginning as forgetfulness, you may forget where you placed things, have trouble remembering appointments or have trouble coming up with words. The danger is that as cognitive decline progresses into Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In these instances it may be hard to remember your loved ones, your location or even what decade we are living in. Untreated hearing loss has been identified as a major cause of aggravating the progression of cognitive decline.

Study in Cognitive Decline and Hearing Loss

A Boston study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School explored the connection to hearing loss and cognitive decline. The Study examined cognitive decline in 10,000 men over 8 years and found that the risk of decline rose when suffering from untreated hearing loss. The study found that the more advanced the hearing loss was that the faster cognitive decline developed. Study participants with moderate to severe hearing loss had a 42-54 percent higher risk of cognitive decline.

Early Diagnosis

“Our findings show that hearing loss is associated with new onset of subjective cognitive concerns which may be indicative of early-stage changes in cognition.” Lead study author Dr. Sharon Curhan explained. 

While there is no cure for dementia, it is estimated that at least 50 million people live world wide with dementia. It is important to identify who is at greatest risk for developing these conditions as early detection can help to curb the speed of development. Identifying factors and behaviors that hint at the onset of dementia can prepare patients, making their quality of life for and those who care for them much improved. 

Hearing Factors Causing MCI

An Italian study explored different types of hearing loss to explore auditory connections to cognitive impairment.  The study examined peripheral and central hearing loss. Central hearing loss is caused by the brain’s impaired ability to process sound while peripheral hearing loss is connected to problems in the physical structure of the ear. 

Researchers found that study participants with central hearing loss more commonly struggled with early symptoms of MCI. Central hearing loss is commonly associated with damage to the fragile cells of the inner ear caused by age related or excessive noise damage. 

The study identified that those who had trouble comprehending speech scored lower on tests regarding memory and thinking skills as well. In fact, 75% of the people studied with central hearing loss suffered from MCI as well. Study lead author Rodolfo Sardone of the National Institute of Health explained, “these preliminary results suggest that central hearing loss may share the same progressive loss of functioning in brain cells that occurs in cognitive decline, rather than the sensory deprivation that happens with peripheral hearing loss.” 

Hearing Aids To Treat Cognitive Decline

Can hearing aids reduce or slow down the risk of cognitive decline? A study from the University of Melbourne tested about 100 patients with hearing loss between 62 and 82 to explore their cognitive performance before and after hearing aids. They monitored the cognitive function, speech perception, quality of life, physical activity and medical health of test subjects for 18 months before and after using hearing aids.

After 18 months researchers found that 97.3 per cent of participants had significantly improved their stability in mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks. Researchers found that those who wore their hearing aids regularly had shown the most improvement in cognitive function. 

Protect Your Hearing and Your Mind

If you understand how your hearing health is connected to your mental health then it is clear how dangerous it can be to ignore your hearing loss. If you suspect you are living with an undiagnosed hearing loss, contact us for a hearing test today. We can help you find the best treatment for you to improve your hearing and protect your mind.