Tuning In: The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Function

We all assume that hearing loss is an inevitable cost of aging that we just need to accept. I mean, what’s the big deal, right? So, you turn the TV on a little louder. But, did you know that connections between a lack of hearing and dementia are being explored?

Hearing loss—also known as hearing impairment—is defined as a total or partial inability to hear in one or both ear(s) and is the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease. It affects approximately 20 percent of Americans, with one in three 65-year-olds diagnosed with loss of hearing.

Many moons ago, hearing loss was frequently misdiagnosed as dementia, a term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory, as well as mental and social abilities. Now, research is revealing that there may be more to the two issues than a simple confusion in diagnosis. In fact, it is now being suggested that hearing loss contributes to cognitive decline in older adults.

How is this happening, and what can be done about it?

Dr. Frank R. Lin conducted a prominent study on the link between cognitive decline and hearing loss. Based on his findings, he developed a few noteworthy theories on why hearing loss affects cognitive function:

  1. Individuals experience what is known as a “cognitive load”
    In essence, if you’re struggling to hear and process what’s going on around you, you stress out and overtax your brain. As a result, the brain is unable to perform other cognitively-demanding tasks.
  2. Hearing loss may affect brain structure
    There are brain imaging studies that show that older adults have less gray matter in certain sections of the brain, resulting in cognitive problems. This isn’t necessarily due to a loss of cells. The sections may instead be shrinking due to a lack of stimulation from a lack of hearing.
  3. Social isolation
    It makes sense. Those who are unable to hear well naturally isolate themselves from social situations to avoid embarrassment when struggling to hold a conversation. The social isolation removes social and intellectual stimulation. In fact, social isolation has been strongly confirmed as a serious risk factor for overall cognitive decline as well as dementia.

What’s the bottom line?

Though more research needs to be done, it seems to be clearly established that there is a firm correlation between hearing loss and cognitive deterioration in adults. That’s why it is so vitally important for individuals to seek an evaluation with an audiologist if they experience symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty with hearing and/or speaking
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Sensitivity to sound

 

Come to the Hearing Specialists

At Midwest Audiology, our experts are the leaders in the treatment, diagnosis and continued care of hearing difficulties. From evaluation to implant testing and mapping, we are committed to providing the best care possible in a warm, inviting environment.

To schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, contact us today.