Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Dede Redfearn

Untreated hearing loss means a part of your life starts to go silent and just slips away. You miss out on parts of conversations, start skipping social engagement because it’s frustrating to process what you can barely hear and before you know it – you’ve insulated yourself from the frustration. But you have also isolated yourself and that’s not a good thing at all!

Hearing loss should not be taken as a natural process of aging that you should just live with. Studies that show untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline/dementia issues. At Crescent City Hearing Center, we will work with you to find the best hearing device to suit your lifestyle and hearing needs. Just make one call and set up a free hearing consultation.

Hearing Loss Research

Adults with even mild hearing loss have a higher risk for dementia, according to studies. Severe hearing loss means you are five times more at risk for dementia. Not only can hearing loss lead to dementia but hearing loss has also has been found to cause cognitive decline.

A study of nearly 2,000 adults showed those who had some hearing loss were 24% more likely than adults of the same age that had no hearing loss, to experience cognitive loss within six years. Cognitive functions declined 40% faster in those with hearing loss. Memory and thinking/cognitive issues showed up three years earlier in adults with hearing loss. The more severe of the hearing loss, the faster and the greater cognitive decline even when other issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure were controlled.

The Brain Strain

Researchers attribute some of the cognitive decline associated with hearing loss to brain strain or cognitive load. You ‘hear’ with your ears, but the sound processing or decoding happens in your brain.  When your brain is trying to sort out mixed, garbled messages because you can’t hear clearly, it stresses your brain because it has to work harder.

Studies show cognitive difficulties occurred 40% faster in those with hearing loss. Those involved in the studies showed greater problems with thinking and memory. As a matter of fact, the issues showed up almost three years earlier in adults with hearing loss than with adults reporting normal hearing!

Hearing Loss and Brain Atrophy

One of the most recently completed studies points out three main reasons poor hearing and dementia/cognitive difficulties are linked.

1 – Cognitive load shifts. When your brain can’t sort out the sounds picked up by your ears, it processes the partial or incomplete information as best it can. It needs to move “thinking” resources to an area of the brain where sound is being processed. This “loads” or “shifts” too much information processing into one area and the other areas of the brain are not adequately stimulated.

2 – Loss of stimulation. People with hearing difficulties tend to socially isolate themselves. Lack of outside social stimulation – or even giving up watching TV or listening to the radio because you have to turn it up too loud or it seems distorted – reduces cognitive stimulation and causes cognitive loss.

3 – Brain atrophy. When you are hearing less, your brain processes less information. The area of the brain that processes information you hear also is the area that controls memory, learning and critical thinking. When the area begins to atrophy because of hearing loss, it affects the overall brain function.
MRIs of the brain used in several studies indicate individuals with even mild hearing loss are employing more of the brain to try and process hearing leaving less to be used for thinking, memory and sound decision making. It’s a sort of overload on one part and the rest starts to slow down, too.

Crescent City Hearing Center

The American Speech Language Hearing Association recommends getting a hearing exam every 10 years until you reach the age of 50 and then get a hearing test every three year. Hearing loss creeps up on you and it should be addressed when it is discovered. At Crescent City Hearing Center, we can help with hearing solutions for the entire family. Our hearing specialist, Tony Goyette can give a unique and compassionate perspective on hearing loss because of his own experience with his hearing impairment.