A phrase that gets regularly tossed around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. It’s called, by most health care professionalssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several factors that play into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, concentration and the ability to understand and comprehend are just some of the factors that can play a role in one’s mental acuity.
Mind-altering illnesses such as dementia are generally considered the cause of a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently associated as another significant factor in mental decline.
The Connection Between Dementia And Your Hearing
In fact, research out of Johns Hopkins University found a connection between dementia, a reduction in cognitive ability, and hearing loss. Through a study of 2,000 people age 75-84 during a six-year period, researchers found that participants who suffered from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent quicker decline in cognitive function than those with normal hearing.
Memory and concentration were two of the areas outlined by the study in which researchers noticed a reduction in mental capabilities. And although hearing loss is often considered a normal part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying its significance.
What Are The Problems From Hearing Impairment Besides Loss of Memory?
In a different study, the same researchers found that a case of hearing impairment could not only accelerate the process of cognitive decline, but is more likely to lead to stress, depression or periods of sadness. Hospitalization and injury from a fall were also found to be more likely in this study’s participants.
A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who suffered from loss of hearing at the beginning of the study were more inclined to develop dementia than people with healthy hearing. Additionally, the study found a direct relationship between the severity of loss of hearing and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. Participants with more extreme hearing loss were as much as five times more likely to encounter symptoms of dementia.
But the work carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins is hardly the first to stake a claim for the connection between hearing loss and a lack of mental aptitude.
International Research Supports a Relationship Between Hearing Loss And Mental Decline
Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that people with hearing loss developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.
One study in Italy went even further by studying two different causes of age-related hearing loss. Through the assessment of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that participants with central hearing loss were more likely to have a mild cognitive disability than those with average hearing or peripheral hearing loss. Typically, people struggle to comprehend words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.
Scores on cognitive tests involving memory and thought were lower in those people who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.
Even though the cause of the relationship between hearing loss and mental impairment is still not known, researchers are confident in the connection.
The Way Hearing Loss Can Affect Mental Acuity
However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory about the brain’s temporal cortex. In speaking on that potential cause, the study’s lead researcher highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are positioned above the ear and are involved in the comprehension of spoken words.
The theory indicates that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which functions as a receiver of information before processing, along with concurrent modifications to the memory areas of the temporal cortex, could be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.
If You Have Loss of Hearing, What Can You do?
The Italians believe this kind of mild cognitive impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Americans who may be in danger is staggering.
Two out of every three people have lost some ability to hear if they are over the age of 75, with considerable hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Loss of hearing even affects 14 percent of those from 45 to 65.
Hearing aids can offer a significant improvement in hearing function decreasing risks for most people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
To find out if you need hearing aids make an appointment with a hearing care professional.