Hearing Loss And Mental Acuity, What is The Connection?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

“Mental acuity” is a term that gets frequently tossed around in context with aging. Most health care or psychology experts 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 some of the areas that can play a role in a person’s mental acuity.

Mind-altering ailments like dementia are usually thought of as the cause of a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently linked as another major factor in cognitive decline.

The Relationship Between Dementia And Your Hearing

In fact, one study conducted by Johns Hopkins University discover a connection between dementia, a reduction in cognitive ability, and hearing loss. Through a study of 2,000 people age 75-84 during a six-year span, researchers found that individuals who had loss of hearing had a 30 to 40 percent faster decrease in mental function than those who had normal hearing.

Memory and focus were two of the areas highlighted by the study in which researchers noted a reduction in cognitive abilities. One Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying the relevance of hearing loss just because it’s regarded as a normal part of aging.

Memory Loss is Not The Only Worry With Hearing Impairment

In another study, the same researchers discovered that a case of impaired hearing could not only quicken the process of mental decline, but is more likely to lead to stress, depression or periods of unhappiness. Hospitalization and injury from a fall were also found to be more likely in this study’s participants.

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

But the work undertaken by researchers at Johns Hopkins is scarcely the first to stake a claim for the connection between loss of hearing and a lack of mental aptitude.

A Link Between Mental Decline And Loss of Hearing is Backed by International Research

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that individuals with hearing impairments developed 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 examining two separate causes. Through the examination of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that individuals with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive disability than those with normal hearing or peripheral hearing loss. People who have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, usually struggle to comprehend the words they can hear.

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

Although the exact reason for the connection between hearing loss and mental impairment is still not known, researchers are confident in the connection.

The Way Loss of Hearing Can Impact 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 highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus situated above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex are involved in the recognition of speech and words.

The theory suggests that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which functions as a receiver of information before processing, along with associated modifications to the memory areas of the temporal cortex, could be the beginning of a loss of neurons in the brain.

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

The Italians believe this type of mild cognitive impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Us citizens who may be in danger is staggering.

Out of all people, two of three over the age of 75 have lost some ability to hear, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering from what is regarded as significant loss of hearing. Hearing loss even impacts 14 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 64.

Hearing aids can offer a considerable improvement in hearing function mitigating risks for most people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
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