The Connection Between Mental Acuity And Hearing Loss

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets commonly tossed around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. The majority of health care or psychology specialists call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are a few aspects that play into the measurement of mental acuity. One’s mental acuity is influenced by numerous factors such as memory, focus, and the ability to understand and comprehend.

Mind-altering conditions such as dementia are commonly regarded as the cause of a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently linked as another significant cause of mental decline.

The Link Between Your Hearing And Dementia

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

In the study which researchers noticed a reduction in mental ability, memory and concentration were two of the aspects outlined. And though loss of hearing is often regarded as a normal part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying its importance.

Complications From Hearing Impairments Besides Memory Loss

In another study, the same researchers found that a case of impaired hearing could not only quicken the process of mental 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 hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more inclined to experience dementia than those who have healthy hearing. Moreover, the study discovered a direct relationship between the severity of hearing loss and the probability of developing a mind-weakening affliction. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in patients with more severe loss of hearing.

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

International Research Backs up a Correlation Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

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

One study in Italy went even further by examining two separate causes of age-related hearing loss. Individuals with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were less likely to develop cognitive disability than people with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists examined both peripheral and central hearing loss. Typically, people struggle to understand words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

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

Though researchers were confident in the link between hearing loss and mental impairments, the cause responsible for correlation remains a mystery.

The Way Loss of Hearing Can Impact Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory that revolves around the brain’s temporal cortex. When talking about 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 undergoes changes as we grow older along with the memory parts of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What Should You do if You Have Hearing Loss?

A pre-clinical stage of dementia, as reported by the Italian study, is parallel to a mild form of mental impairment. In spite of that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s most definitely something to be serious about And the number of Americans who might be at risk is staggering.

Two out of every three people have lost some hearing ability if they are over the age of 75, with significant loss of hearing in 48 million Americans. Hearing loss even affects 14 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 64.

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.
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