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Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A phrase that gets frequently thrown around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. The majority of health care or psychology experts call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several aspects that play into the measurement of mental acuity. One’s mental acuity is influenced by numerous factors such as memory, focus, and the ability to comprehend and understand.

Mind-altering illnesses like dementia are commonly regarded as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently linked as another major contributor to cognitive decline.

The Connection Between Your Hearing And Dementia

In fact, one study out of Johns Hopkins University discovered a connection between hearing loss, dementia and a loss in cognitive ability. A six year study of 2000 people between the ages of 75-85 found that there was a 30 to 40 percent faster cognitive decline in people who had from loss of hearing.

In the study which researchers noticed a decrease in cognitive capability, memory and concentration were two of the areas outlined. One Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying the relevance of loss of hearing just because it’s considered a normal part of aging.

Complications Due to Impaired Hearing Beyond Memory Loss

In another study, the same researchers found that a case of impaired hearing could not only accelerate the process of mental decline, but is more likely to lead to stress, depression or periods of sadness. In addition, that study’s hearing-impaired individuals were more likely to become hospitalized or injured in a fall.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t have hearing loss were less likely to develop dementia than those who did have hearing loss. Moreover, the study found a direct correlation between the severity of loss of hearing and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more probable in people with more extreme loss of hearing.

And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of mental aptitude and hearing loss.

International Research Backs up a Connection Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that those with hearing impairments developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further and looked at age related hearing loss by examining two different causes. Individuals who have normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to have cognitive disability than those with central hearing loss. This was determined after researchers studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. People with central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, generally struggle to comprehend the words they can hear.

In the Italian study, people with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had poorer scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Although researchers were sure about the connection between loss of hearing and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation remains a mystery.

The Way Hearing Loss Can Impact Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory about the brain’s temporal cortex. When talking about that potential cause, the study’s lead author emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus located above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex play a role in comprehension of speech and words.

The theory indicates that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which serves as a receiver of information prior to processing, along with associated alterations to the memory parts of the temporal cortex, could be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

If You Have Hearing Loss, What Can You do?

The Italians think this kind of mild cognitive impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Americans who might be at risk is staggering.

Out of all people, two of three have lost some hearing ability if they are older than 75, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is regarded as considerable hearing loss. Even 14 percent of those ages 45 to 64 are impacted by loss of hearing.

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate these risks with a hearing aid, which can provide a considerable improvement in hearing function for most people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
To find out if you need hearing aids make an appointment with a hearing care professional.