As we age, our brain inevitably becomes smaller. John Hopkins University researchers recently discovered that older hearing loss sufferers are more likely to experience a higher level of brain shrinkage at a faster rate than those with normal hearing.
The Maryland research team studied 126 participants aged 56 to 86 for up to a 10-year period and published their findings online in the journal NeuroImage. The researchers tracked the subjects’ brain changes with annual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
At the beginning of the study, participants also underwent physical exams including hearing tests. While about 71 subjects had normal hearing, 51 had a minimum hearing loss of 25 decibels.
After analyzing all MRI scans conducted over the 10 year period, the researchers discovered that participants with impaired hearing at the beginning of the study experienced brain atrophy, or shrinkage, at a faster rate than subjects with normal hearing.
Participants with hearing loss lost at least an extra cubic centimeter more of brain tissue each year, compared with subjects with normal hearing.
The researchers linked impaired hearing to increased brain shrinkage in specific areas including the superior, middle and inferior temporal gyri, all structures that play a part in processing speech and sound.
The study’s lead author, Frank Lin of John Hopkins University’s schools of medicine and public health, claims that it isn’t surprising that these specific brain structures were affected. He also explains that hearing loss sufferers tend to use speech and sound less, resulting in brain structures linked to these processes shrinking because of lack of stimulation.
Lin further comments that the middle and inferior temporal gyri are typically associated with memory and cognition. Research shows that these brain areas play a vital part in the early stages of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
About 36 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Lin comments that their research findings emphasize the importance of treating hearing loss as early as possible.
“Our results suggest that hearing loss could be another hit on the brain in many ways,” Lin told Medical News Today. “If you want to address hearing loss well, 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.”
The researchers claim that further studies are warranted to discover whether treating hearing loss early could reduce the risk of health problems.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!