Hearing loss is a serious condition that can accelerate the onset of cognitive decline, especially after the age of 70. A number of studies have been conducted on the subject supporting this claim. The loss of sensory functions (such as hearing) can lead to ineffective cognitive function in speed, reasoning, memory, knowledge, and fluency.
After a 2013 study conducted by Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, he determined hearing loss can contribute to Dementia in four major ways:
Common physiological pathway, such as high blood pressure that affects hearing loss and cognitive functioning.
“Cognitive load” or the straining effort to understand/comprehend what you hear puts additional stress on the brain.
Hearing loss may affect brain structure – without proper brain stimulation from hearing, certain structures may shrink.
Social isolation – people with poor hearing have a harder time understanding and communicating and tend to isolate themselves which can speed cognitive decline
Early intervention with hearing aids is the best method of prevention. One study measured the effect of hearing aid devices in patients at different stages of hearing loss, the earlier the intervention the more loss can be recovered. By beginning binaural (both ears) hearing aid use within 2 years of the hearing loss onset, most cases show significant to complete hearing recovery. In other cases that had more severe loss and a longer period of non-correction, hearing recovery took several years to develop and did not show complete recovery.
Midwest Podiatry Centers will be opening up a new Audiology room at their St. Anthony location that will offer hearing evaluation services. An evaluation helps to rule out ear wax or infection as a cause of hearing loss, and helps determine what you can or cannot hear. Using a tool called an audiogram, the audiologist is able to plot hearing abilities for both ears. As hearing declines it may affect only certain sounds, which can be explained by these audiograms. Higher pitch sounds and letters become increasingly difficult to hear and can lead to large communication gaps and comprehension issues.
Hearing loss can be countered with the use of binaural (both ears) or monaural (one ear) hearing aids. Scheduled hearing evaluations, and potential fitting for hearing aids, can help to deter the progression of severe hearing loss and potential development of cognitive decline and dementia. With early intervention of hearing issues, cognitive abilities can remain intact and onset of dementia can potentially be avoided. While hearing loss does increase the risk of cognitive decline it does not mean development of dementia or Alzheimer’s is certain.
If you are over the age of 70 you should schedule yearly hearing checks and seek consultation if you have noticed any hearing concerns or comprehension issues.