Hearing Loss And Mental Acuity, What is The Relationship?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

“Mental acuity” is a phrase that gets regularly thrown around in regards to aging. The majority of health care or psychology professionals call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, But the measurement of mental acuity takes into consideration several aspects. Memory, concentration and the ability to understand and comprehend are just a few of the factors that can contribute to one’s mental acuity.

Along with mind-altering illnesses like dementia, loss of hearing has also been verified as a contributing factor for mental decline.

Between Dementia And Your Hearing What is The Connection?

In fact, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University uncovered a connection between loss of hearing, dementia and a decline in cognitive ability. Through a study of 2,000 people function between the ages of 75-84 over a six-year span, researchers found that participants who suffered from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent faster decline in mental function than those who had normal hearing.

Memory and concentration were two of the areas highlighted by the study in which researchers noticed a reduction in cognitive abilities. And although hearing loss is usually considered a normal part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its importance.

Problems From Hearing Impairments Beyond Memory Loss

Not just memory loss 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 participants were more likely to become hospitalized or injured in a fall.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t suffer from loss of hearing were less likely to develop dementia than individuals who did have hearing loss. And an even more telling statistic from this study was that the likelihood of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and hearing loss had a direct correlation. Participants with more extreme loss of hearing were as much as five times more likely to encounter symptoms of dementia.

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

International Research Backs up a Relationship Between Hearing Loss And Mental Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that dementia will be developed more often and earlier by people who suffer from hearing loss than by people with normal hearing.

One study in Italy went even further and investigated age related hearing loss by examining two different causes. Through the assessment of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that participants with central hearing loss were more likely to have a mild cognitive impairment than those with average hearing or peripheral hearing loss. Generally, people struggle to comprehend words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

In the Italian study, people with lower scores on speech comprehension evaluations also had poorer scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Though researchers were confident in the connection between loss of hearing and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation is still unknown.

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. In speaking on that potential cause, the study’s lead researcher emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are situated above the ear and are involved in the comprehension of spoken words.

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

If You Have Loss of Hearing, What Can You do?

The Italians think this form of mild cognitive impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should certainly be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s shocking the number of Us citizens who are in danger.

Out of all people, two of three have lost some ability to hear if they are older than 75, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is considered to be significant loss of hearing. Even 14 percent of people ages 45 to 64 are impacted by hearing loss.

Fortunately there are methods to mitigate these dangers with a hearing aid, which can provide a considerable enhancement in hearing function for most people. This is according to the lead author of the Italian research.
Schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional to see if you need hearing aids.

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