Hearing loss is a serious problem that could cause cognitive decline
Researchers from Johns Hopkins found that hearing-impaired adults aged 75 to 84 were more likely to experience memory and cognitive problems than adults of the same age with normal hearing. The 2,000-participant study revealed another shocking finding: adults with hearing problems experienced cognitive decline up to 40 percent faster than adults with normal hearing.
The study’s revelations are particularly important because hearing loss in adults has often been treated as an inconsequential aspect of aging. The findings, however, confirm that hearing loss is a serious problem that could cause cognitive decline.
When the study began in 2006, all the participants were in good health. Over the next six years, the participants underwent regular brain cognition and hearing tests. Researchers concluded that the level of brain functioning was directly related to hearing loss, and those with hearing loss experienced serious cognitive impairment over three years sooner than those with normal hearing.
Explaining the Findings: What’s the Connection?
Our inner ears convert sounds into signals that deliver messages to the brain. When the inner ear no longer encodes these signals accurately and reliably, we call it hearing loss. The brain still gets the message, but it is garbled. To cope, the brain has to rededicate sources to help with sound processing. When the sources are rededicated, something else suffers, and according to the study, that something else is brain functioning.
MRIs back up this finding, showing that the prefrontal cortex is activated in people who experience hearing loss. This redirection takes away from the part of the brain that creates memories.
Hearing Loss, Dementia and Social Isolation
Hearing loss may be linked to dementia in another way: one of the major risk factors for developing dementia is social isolation, and people with hearing loss are less likely to engage in conversation, go out with friends or build new relationships. They withdraw socially, which makes them more likely to develop dementia.
Increasing Prevention = Decreasing Dementia?
Although the study confirmed a link between dementia and hearing loss, researchers are hesitant to say that preventing hearing loss may also reduce the risk of dementia, especially because there are many other factors known to cause cognitive decline. That issue needs further studying, but the team of researchers from Johns Hopkins is currently seeking funding from the National Institutes of Health for funds to examine the subject in the future.
Do you or a loved one suffer from hearing loss? How has it affected your life? Do you see a connection between hearing loss and dementia in your own family? Share your experiences with our readers in the comments section below!