According to estimations, more than 20 million Americans over the age of 50 are living with hearing loss, which has been found to be linked with the development of dementia. Experts at John Hopkins University have reported that individuals experiencing loss of hearing severe enough to cause conversation difficulties have a 24% higher chance of developing dementia compared to those without any auditory issues.
Significance of results proven by earlier studies
JAMA Internal Medicine published the results of the study, which is not the only data to suggest the connection between an individual’s cognitive function and their hearing abilities. Back in 2011, the same team of experts at John Hopkins University completed a study, which lasted for nearly 20 years. The study revealed that individuals living with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to develop cognitive problems when compared with those who had normal hearing. Although researchers recognize the connection between these two conditions, there is still sparse evidence suggesting that one results in the other.
The correlation between cognitive function and hearing could be justified by a number of factors. According to the study lead at the university, Dr. Frank Lin, one of the explanations for this connection might be that those with hearing difficulties often stress out their brains because of their impairment. Moreover, loss of hearing could result in social isolation, which is another recognized risk factor for cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Elaborating the connection
The team of researchers used the data collected from 639 individuals over the age of 60 for this study. This included a group of individuals with normal hearing abilities as well as another comprising of individuals with mild cognitive hearing loss, which is equal to a hearing loss of 25 decibels. With this level of hearing loss, you may have difficulty following a quiet conversation or any conversation inside a noisy room. The latter group had a significantly lower score in cognitive tests than the former.
As pointed out earlier, deafness or hearing difficulties can result in a greater cognitive load. When your brain needs to put an extra effort for completing one task, it has limitations in other functions. The stress resulting from hearing loss can be relieved by maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships and engaging the brain to focus on pleasurable activities. This is why past studies have pointed out that being socially active can be useful for preventing the development of dementia.
Benefiting from the study
What we can derive from these studies is that hearing loss puts additional stress on your brain, possibly resulting in cognitive impairment. Although experts have not elaborated that hearing loss causes dementia, there is no harm in playing it safe. You can start by getting a solution for your hearing loss, whether it’s age-related or not. As mild as the problem may be, it is recommended that you start using hearing aides to relieve your brain of the pressure it undergoes to concentrate on hearing conversations.
In case you find yourself struggling to follow conversations and believe your hearing could be declining, see a specialist immediately and find out your options. The earlier you get your hearing corrected, the better chance you have at delaying or preventing cognitive impairment.