A phrase that gets commonly thrown around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. Most health care or psychology specialists call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are a few factors that play into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, concentration and the ability to understand and comprehend are just some of the factors that can play a role in one’s mental acuity.
Mind-altering conditions like dementia are generally considered the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently linked as another major cause of mental decline.
The Link Between Your Hearing And Dementia
In fact, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University uncovered a connection between hearing loss, dementia and a loss in cognitive ability. Through a study of 2,000 men and women function between the ages of 75-84 over a six-year span, researchers found that individuals who suffered from loss of hearing had a 30 to 40 percent faster decline in mental function than those with normal hearing.
Memory and concentration were two of the functions outlined by the study in which researchers noted a reduction in cognitive abilities. And although hearing loss is often regarded as a typical part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its significance.
Memory Loss is Not The Only Concern With Impaired Hearing
In another study, the same researchers found that a case of hearing impairment could not only speed up the process of cognitive 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 have loss of hearing were not as likely to develop dementia than individuals 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 correlation. Participants with more severe hearing loss were as much as five times more likely to suffer symptoms of dementia.
And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also brought attention to the loss of cognitive aptitude and hearing loss.
International Research Backs up a Correlation Between Hearing Loss And Mental Decline
Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that people with hearing impairments ended up with dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.
One study in Italy took it a step further by analyzing two different causes of age-related hearing loss. People who have normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were less likely to develop cognitive impairment than those with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists examined both peripheral and central hearing loss. Typically, people struggle to understand words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.
Scores on cognitive tests involving memory and thought were lower in participants who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.
Though the exact reason for the relationship between hearing loss and mental impairment is still unknown, researchers are confident in the connection.
How Can Loss of Hearing 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 author emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are situated above the ear and play a role in the recognition of spoken words.
The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and goes through changes as we get older along with the memory areas of the temporal cortex which could be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.
What Can You do if You Have Hearing Loss?
The Italians believe this form of mild mental 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 might be at risk is shocking.
Two of every three people have lost some ability to hear if they are over the age of 75, with significant hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Loss of hearing even impacts 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64.
Hearing aids can provide a significant improvement in hearing function mitigating risks for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional to find out if you need hearing aids.