When we talk about hearing loss, we often just discuss how it affects communication and social interaction, but there may be more to hearing loss than that, especially when left untreated.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. With such large numbers of Americans now affected by hearing loss, it’s no surprise that it has become a hot topic for more in-depth study. In recent years, more and more researchers have started delving into the deeper and sometimes more alarming effects of untreated hearing loss. One such effect that is gaining more notice has been the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
What is Cognitive Decline?
For many, preventing cognitive decline is of the utmost concern. There have been countless studies on the topic, and even a popular new diet (The MIND Diet), designed to help preserve brain function, has been gaining ground. Cognitive decline may be considered Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or may become a more serious diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, studies suggest that 15 to 20 percent of those aged 65 and older may have MCI and it is estimated that 1 in 7 Americans age 71 and older are living with some form of dementia. Could hearing loss be a contributing factor in some of these cases?
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
As experts seek causes for the growing number of dementia cases in the United States, many have honed in on the possible link to hearing loss. There are now many theories about reduced communication and social interaction as possible causes. While there’s no doubt that further research is needed, recent findings have uncovered some hard to deny connections between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
- A study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging evaluated 639 individuals and determined that “hearing loss is independently associated with incident all-cause dementia.” The study’s authors specified that it is still unclear whether hearing loss is an indicator for dementia or if it’s a risk factor that, when left untreated, can increase the risk of dementia.
- A study from Johns Hopkins asked volunteers to complete cognition tests repeatedly over a period of six years and found that cognitive abilities declined 30 to 40 percent faster in those with hearing loss than in those whose hearing was normal. According to the report, “Levels of declining brain function were directly related to the amount of hearing loss… On average, older adults with hearing loss developed a significant impairment in their cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than those with normal hearing.”
As more research is done, it is clear that untreated hearing loss and its effects on individual health are much more complicated than previously believed. It’s about more than hearing impairment. It’s also the impairment of social interaction, reduced ability to communicate and more serious concerns such as cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Take charge of your hearing and your health with regular hearing screenings and guidance from your hearing healthcare provider.