The Relationship Between Mental Acuity And Hearing Loss

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

“Mental acuity” is a phrase that gets commonly thrown around in context with aging. The majority of health care or psychology professionals call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, But the measurement of mental acuity takes into account several aspects. Memory, focus and the ability to comprehend or understand are just some of the areas that can play a role in one’s mental acuity.

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

Between Dementia And Your Hearing What is The Link?

In fact, one study conducted by Johns Hopkins University uncovered a relationship between loss of hearing, dementia and a decline in cognitive function. Through a study of 2,000 men and women function between the ages of 75-84 over a six-year span, researchers found that individuals who suffered from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent faster decrease in cognitive function than those with normal hearing.

Memory and concentration were two of the functions outlined by the study in which researchers observed a reduction in mental capabilities. And though loss of hearing is usually regarded as a normal part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying its importance.

What Are The Concerns From Impaired Hearing Beyond Loss of Memory?

Not just loss of memory but stress, periods of unhappiness, and depression are also more likely in those that have hearing loss according to another study. 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 experience dementia than people with normal hearing. Additionally, the study discovered a direct correlation between the severity of hearing loss and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in patients with more extreme hearing loss.

And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of mental aptitude and hearing loss.

A Connection 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 individuals with hearing impairments developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further by studying two separate causes of age-related hearing loss. People with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to develop mental impairment than people with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. People with central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, commonly struggle to understand the words they can hear.

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.

Although researchers were confident in the link between loss of hearing and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation is still unknown.

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 emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus situated above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex are involved in comprehension of speech and words.

The theory suggests that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which functions as a receiver of information prior to 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 Should You do?

The Italians think this type of mild mental impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s staggering the amount of Americans who are in danger.

Two out of every three people over the age of 75 have lost some hearing ability, with significant loss of hearing in 48 million Americans. Even 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64 are impacted by loss of hearing.

Hearing aids can offer a significant improvement in hearing function mitigating dangers for many 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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