The risks of ignoring hearing loss go far beyond an inability to keep up with conversations or understand TV show dialogue. Multiple studies have linked untreated hearing loss to certain life-threatening co-morbidities, including the potential of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD conducted a landmark study on the topic of hearing loss and cognitive decline. He concluded that while further research was needed to identify the mechanics of the interrelationship, there is little doubt that hearing loss increases the potential for an older adult to lose cognitive function. The study also indicated that the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the likelihood of developing a cognitive disorder, and the steeper the decline in mental function. However, even subjects with mild hearing loss were found more likely to experience dementia.[i]
Dr. Lin and his team conducted a follow-up study comparing changes in the brains of adults with normal hearing to those with hearing loss. After undergoing magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) exams every year for ten years, subjects who had at least a 25-decibel (dB) hearing loss displayed accelerated rates of gray matter shrinkage when compared to a control group with normal hearing. The parts of the brain affected included centers for processing sound and speech, memory, and sensory integration — similar to the damaged regions found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.[ii]
A more recent study led by Professor Helene Amieva took a closer look at how hearing aids could help reduce the negative impact of hearing loss on brain function. Participants with hearing loss had lower scores for cognitive ability at the beginning of the study than the control group with normal hearing. However, those who wore hearing aids experienced a shallower rate of decline in cognitive abilities that nearly matched their naturally-hearing peers. Conversely, the participants with hearing loss who did not wear hearing aids experienced a markedly steeper decline in cognition.[iii]
A separate study conducted by Jamie Desjardins, PhD involved participants with hearing loss taking exams that measured memory, attention, and processing speed. They then wore hearing aids for two weeks and took the tests again. The results were compared and showed a significant uptick in percentages scored for recalling words and selective attention, and an increase in processing speed resulting in correct answers.[iv]
Don’t wait — take action to preserve your hearing and brain function
Most researchers agree that wearing hearing aids can help keep your brain healthy longer. This is especially true now that some hearing aids have been clinically proven to reduce listening effort, based on brainwave measurements.[v] When you’re no longer struggling to hear, your brain doesn’t have to strain or redirect resources from other vital functions. You can enjoy social activities, conversations with friends and family, hobbies and physical exercise that keep body and mind active.
Many people with hearing loss wait an average of seven years after they are diagnosed to seek treatment, even though the sooner hearing loss is detected and treatment begins, the more hearing ability can be preserved. Considering early diagnosis and medical intervention can sometimes slow the progression of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it is more important than ever to treat your hearing loss sooner rather than later.
[i] Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Accelerates Brain Function Decline in Older Adults. 2013 (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_accelerates_brain_function_decline_in_older_adults)
[ii] Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss. 2014 (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_)
[iii] Amieva, H., Ouvrard, C, Giulioli, C. Meillon, C., Rullier, L., Dartigues, J-F. (2015). Self-reported hearing loss, hearing aids, and cognitive decline in elderly adults: a 25-year study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 63(10), 2099-104.
[iv] University of Texas at El Paso. (2016). Hearing aids improve memory, speech. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160128155757.htm)
[v] Littmann, V., Froehlich, M., Beilin, J., Branda, E., Schaefer, P. J. (2016). Clinical studies show advanced hearing aid technology reduces listening effort. Hearing Review, 23(4), 36.
Reposted with permission from Signia