The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

It is important for people with hearing loss to take necessary action and get the treatment they need. Why? The list of reasons is long, and new research on dementia has made that list even longer.

According to a recent study conducted by The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care, “Dementia is the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century: around 50 million people worldwide have dementia and this number is predicted to triple by 2050”. The good news is, “dementia is not an inevitable consequence of aging”.

In the study, researchers identified nine risk factors for developing dementia: less childhood education, hypertension, obesity, smoking, depression, physical inactivity, social isolation, diabetes, and, you guessed it- hearing loss.

The study found that, by eliminating some of these risk factors, the number of new dementia cases could be reduced by as much as 35%. In other words, there are things you can do to delay or prevent the development of dementia.

Several other studies have been conducted in previous years that support these findings, and the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. In a 2014 study conducted by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute of Aging, researchers found that, “although the brain becomes smaller with age, the shrinkage seems to be fast-tracked in older adults with hearing loss”.

Johns Hopkins also conducted a 2013 study and concluded that, “older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than older adults whose hearing is normal”. Researchers found that, “volunteers with hearing loss, undergoing repeated cognition tests over six years, had cognitive abilities that declined some 30 percent to 40 percent faster than in those whose hearing was normal. Levels of declining brain function were directly related to the amount of hearing loss, the researchers say. On average, older adults with hearing loss developed a significant impairment in their cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than those with normal hearing.”

One of the Johns Hopkins researchers who was involved in both studies is Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D.. In the 2013 study, Lin said, “Degraded hearing may also force the brain to devote too much of its energy to processing sound, and at the expense of energy spent on memory and thinking.” Luckily, hearing aids can help with that problem.

Do not ignore hearing loss, and do not delay getting the treatment you need. Take it from someone who knows what he’s talking about. “If you want to address hearing loss well,” Lin says, “you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.”

Whether your hearing is healthy or not, everyone can take action to delay or prevent dementia and cognitive decline. Protect your hearing, schedule annual hearing tests, and get the treatment you need.

Don’t put it off any longer, for your brain’s sake.