Wooden brain puzzle representing mental decline due to hearing loss.

What’s the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline? Brain health and hearing loss have a link which medical science is beginning to comprehend. Your risk of developing dementia is increased with even mild hearing loss, as it turns out.

These two seemingly unrelated health disorders might have a pathological connection. So, how does loss of hearing put you in danger of dementia and how can a hearing test help combat it?

Dementia, what is it?

Dementia is a condition that reduces memory ability, clear thinking, and socialization skills, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. Alzheimer’s is a common form of cognitive decline the majority of people think of when they hear the word dementia. Around five million people in the US are impacted by this progressive form of dementia. Exactly how hearing health effects the risk of dementia is finally well grasped by scientists.

How hearing works

The ear mechanisms are quite intricate and each one is important when it comes to good hearing. Waves of sound go into the ear canal and are amplified as they move toward the inner ear. Electrical impulses are sent to the brain for decoding by tiny little hairs in the inner ear that shake in response to waves of sound.

Over time, many individuals develop a gradual decline in their ability to hear due to years of trauma to these fragile hair cells. The result is a decrease in the electrical signals to the brain that makes it difficult to comprehend sound.

This progressive hearing loss is sometimes considered a normal and inconsequential part of the aging process, but research indicates that’s not accurate. The brain tries to decode any messages sent by the ear even if they are garbled or unclear. That effort puts stress on the organ, making the individual struggling to hear more susceptible to developing dementia.

Here are a few disease risk factors that have hearing loss in common:

  • Memory impairment
  • Trouble learning new skills
  • Reduction in alertness
  • Irritability
  • Weak overall health
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion

And the more severe your hearing loss the greater your risk of dementia. Even slight hearing loss can double the risk of dementia. Hearing loss that is more severe will raise the risk by three times and very severe neglected hearing loss can put you at up to a five times higher danger. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University monitored the cognitive skills of over 2,000 older adults over a six-year period. Cognitive and memory problems are 24 percent more likely in individuals who have hearing loss severe enough to disrupt conversation, according to this study.

Why is a hearing exam important?

Not everyone understands how even a little hearing loss affects their overall health. Most individuals don’t even know they have hearing loss because it develops so slowly. As hearing declines, the human brain adjusts gradually so it makes it less obvious.

Scheduling regular comprehensive exams gives you and your hearing specialist the ability to correctly assess hearing health and observe any decline as it occurs.

Minimizing the risk with hearing aids

Scientists currently think that the link between cognitive decline and hearing loss has a lot to do with the brain strain that hearing loss produces. Based on that one fact, you might conclude that hearing aids decrease that risk. A hearing assistance device amplifies sound while filtering out background noise that disrupts your hearing and eases the strain on your brain. With a hearing aid, the brain will not work so hard to comprehend the sounds it’s receiving.

There is no rule that says individuals who have normal hearing won’t develop dementia. What science thinks is that hearing loss speeds up the decline in the brain, increasing the risk of cognitive problems. The key to decreasing that risk is routine hearing exams to diagnose and treat gradual hearing loss before it can have an affect on brain health.

If you’re worried that you might be suffering from hearing loss, give us a call today to schedule your hearing evaluation.

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