A term that gets regularly thrown 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 aspects that play into the measurement of mental acuity. A person’s mental acuity is affected by several factors such as memory, concentration, and the ability to understand and comprehend.
Mind-altering illnesses like dementia are generally regarded as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently linked as another significant cause of mental decline.
Between Dementia And Your Hearing What is The Connection?
In fact, Johns Hopkins University conducted one study that revealed a connection between dementia, a loss in cognitive ability, and hearing loss. Through a study of 2,000 men and women function between the ages of 75-84 during a six-year span, researchers concluded that individuals who suffered from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent faster decline in mental function than those with normal hearing.
Memory and focus were two of the functions outlined by the study in which researchers noticed a reduction in mental abilities. And although hearing loss is often regarded as a natural part of getting older, one Johns Hopkins professor warned against downplaying its relevance.
What Are The Problems From Impaired Hearing Besides Loss of Memory?
In a different study, the same researchers discovered that a case of hearing impairment could not only speed up the process of mental decline, but is more likely to lead to stress, depression or periods of unhappiness. 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 hearing loss were less likely to develop dementia than those who did have loss of hearing. And an even more telling stat from this study was that the probability of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and hearing loss had a direct correlation. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in patients with more extreme loss of hearing.
And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of cognitive aptitude and hearing loss.
A Link Between Mental Decline And Hearing Loss is Supported by International Research
Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that those with hearing impairments developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.
One study in Italy went even further by analyzing two different causes of age-related hearing loss. People who have normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were less likely to have mental disability than people with central hearing loss. This was concluded after researchers studied both peripheral and central 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.
In the Italian study, people with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had poorer scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.
Although the exact reason for the relationship between loss of hearing and cognitive impairment is still unknown, 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. When talking about that potential cause, the study’s lead author highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are situated above the ear and play a role in the recognition of spoken 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 may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.
What Should You do if You Have Loss of Hearing?
The Italians believe this form of mild mental impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should certainly be taken seriously in spite of 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 over the age of 75, with significant hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Hearing loss even affects 14 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 64.
Hearing aids can provide a considerable improvement in hearing function mitigating risks for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
To see if you need hearing aids make an appointment with a hearing care specialist.