What is The Relationship Between Mental Acuity And Hearing Loss?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets regularly tossed around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. Most health care or psychology professionals call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several aspects that play into the measurement of mental acuity. One’s mental acuity is impacted by several factors like memory, focus, and the ability to understand and comprehend.

Mind-altering ailments such as dementia are generally thought of as the cause of a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently associated as another significant factor in mental decline.

The Link Between Dementia And Your Hearing

In fact, Johns Hopkins University conducted one study that found a relationship between dementia, a decline in cognitive ability, and loss of hearing. A six year study of 2000 people from the ages of 75-85 concluded that there was a 30 to 40 percent faster mental decline in people who suffer from loss of hearing.

In the study which researchers observed a reduction in cognitive ability, memory and focus were two of the aspects outlined. One Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying the importance of hearing loss just because it’s considered a typical aspect of aging.

Memory Loss is Not The Only Concern With Impaired Hearing

Not just memory loss but stress, periods of sadness, and depression are also more likely in people with hearing loss according to another study. In addition, that study’s hearing-impaired individuals were more likely to become hospitalized or injured in a fall.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t suffer from loss of hearing were less likely to develop dementia than those who did have hearing loss. Additionally, the study discovered a direct correlation between the severity of loss of hearing and the likelihood to develop a mind-weakening condition. Participants with more extreme hearing loss were as much as five times more likely to suffer symptoms of dementia.

But the work undertaken by researchers at Johns Hopkins is hardly the first to stake a claim for the relationship between hearing loss and a lack of cognitive aptitude.

International Research Supports a Connection Between Loss of Hearing And Mental Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that those with hearing impairments ended up with dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy went even further and looked at age related hearing loss by examining two separate causes. Through the assessment of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers concluded that individuals with central hearing loss were more likely to have a mild cognitive disability than those who had average hearing or peripheral hearing loss. People who have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, usually struggle to comprehend the words they can hear.

In the Italian study, individuals with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had lower scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Though the cause of the connection between hearing loss and cognitive impairment is still not known, researchers are confident in the connection.

How Can Loss of Hearing 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 author highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus located above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex play a role in the recognition of speech and words.

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and goes through changes as we grow older along with the memory parts of the temporal cortex which could be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What to do if You Have Hearing Loss

The Italians think this type of mild cognitive impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should certainly be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s shocking the amount of Americans who are at risk.

Out of all people, two of three have lost some hearing ability if they are older than 75, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering from what is considered to be considerable hearing loss. Hearing loss even affects 14 percent of people from 45 to 65.

Hearing aids can offer a significant improvement in hearing function mitigating risks for most people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
Make an appointment with a hearing care professional to find out if you need hearing aids.

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