The study had participants with hearing loss go through cognition tests over a period of six years. Their cognitive abilities declined 30%–40% faster than those of participants whose hearing was normal. How far the brain function declined was directly related to the amount of hearing loss. If we translate that into time, older adults with hearing loss had significantly impaired cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than others.
Hearing loss was deemed, as specialists agree, as recognizing only those sounds louder than 25 decibels. As many as 27 million Americans over age 50 may suffer hearing loss. That includes two-thirds of adults over 70.
The study shows that we shouldn’t consider hearing loss a part of aging that poses no threat. It may have serious consequences for a healthy brain. It reinforces that people who do have declining hearing should speak to their doctor about its potential impact.
Why does this link happen? It is possible, the researchers say, that hearing loss is linked to social isolation and loneliness, which are risk factors for cognitive decline. Or, the brain spends too much energy processing sound, leaving less available for memory and thinking. This group of researchers will also be heading up a big study on whether hearing aids in older adults actually delay cognitive decline.
At this point, we can consider hearing loss not just an aspect of aging, but also a potential marker that puts your entire mind at risk. Like genetics, it is a risk factor that, if you know you have it, you can take greater steps to help prevent the onset of memory problems and even dementia.
Sources for Today’s Articles:
Hearing Loss May Impact Your Mind
Lin, F., et al., “Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults,” JAMA Intern Med. January 21, 2013: 1–7.