Wooden brain puzzle representing mental decline due to hearing loss.

What’s the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline? Brain health and hearing loss have a connection which medical science is beginning to understand. Your risk of developing dementia is increased with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.

Researchers think that there might be a pathological link between these two seemingly unrelated health issues. So, how does hearing loss put you in danger of dementia and how can a hearing exam help fight it?

Dementia, what is it?

The Mayo Clinic states that dementia is a cluster of symptoms that change memory, alter the ability to think concisely, and reduce socialization skills. Alzheimer’s is a common type of cognitive decline the majority of individuals think of when they hear the word dementia. Alzheimer’s means progressive dementia that affects about five million people in the U.S. Today, medical science has a comprehensive understanding of how ear health alters the danger of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.

How hearing works

The ear components are extremely complex and each one matters when it comes to good hearing. Waves of sound go inside the ear canal and are boosted as they travel toward the inner ear. Electrical impulses are sent to the brain for decoding by tiny little hairs in the inner ear that vibrate in response to waves of sound.

Over time, many individuals develop a progressive decline in their ability to hear due to years of damage to these delicate hair cells. The outcome is a reduction in the electrical signals to the brain that makes it harder to comprehend sound.

This gradual hearing loss is sometimes regarded as a normal and insignificant part of the aging process, but research indicates that’s not the case. Whether the impulses are unclear and jumbled, the brain will try to decode them anyway. That effort puts strain on the organ, making the person struggling to hear more vulnerable to developing dementia.

Here are several disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:

  • Depression
  • Weak overall health
  • Exhaustion
  • Memory impairment
  • Trouble learning new skills
  • Reduction in alertness
  • Irritability

The likelihood of developing dementia can increase depending on the extent of your hearing loss, also. Even slight hearing loss can double the odds of cognitive decline. Hearing loss that is more severe will bring the risk up by three times and extremely severe untreated hearing loss can put you at up to a five times greater risk. Research by Johns Hopkins University tracked the cognitive skills of over 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. They discovered that hearing loss significant enough to hinder conversation was 24 percent more likely to result in memory and cognitive problems.

Why is a hearing assessment worthwhile?

Hearing loss impacts the general health and that would most likely surprise many individuals. Most individuals don’t even realize they have hearing loss because it develops so gradually. The human brain is good at adapting as hearing declines, so it is not so obvious.

We will be able to properly assess your hearing health and monitor any changes as they occur with regular hearing exams.

Using hearing aids to decrease the risk

Scientists currently believe that the relationship between cognitive decline and hearing loss is largely based on the brain strain that hearing loss causes. So hearing aids should be capable of decreasing the risk, based on that fact. The stress on your brain will be decreased by using a hearing aid to filter out undesirable background noise while enhancing sounds you want to hear. The sounds that you’re hearing will come through without as much effort.

There’s no rule that says people with normal hearing won’t end up with dementia. What science believes is that hearing loss speeds up the decline in the brain, raising the risk of cognitive issues. The key to decreasing that risk is regular hearing tests to diagnose and treat gradual hearing loss before it can have an impact on brain health.

If you’re concerned that you might be dealing with hearing loss, call us today to schedule your hearing evaluation.

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