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Exploring the Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

by April Maguire

On the surface, it would seem like there wouldn't be a strong connection between cognitive. As it turns out though, the connection may be stronger than you think. While hearing loss can affect young people, it disproportionately affects the elderly. According to the most recent statistics, more than 30% of people over the age of 65 suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Not surprisingly, this is the same group that's most prone to cognitive impairment. While scientists are fairly certain by now that one leads to the other, researchers are still struggling to understand how that relationship works.

The Mental Toll of Hearing Loss

There is no doubt of the overlap between people suffering from both of these conditions. What is still up in the air, however, is the nature of this connection. For example, is it possible that hearing loss and mental decline both have the same route cause, such as Alzheimer's disease? Increasingly, researchers don't believe that to be the case. Based on scientific studies, it seems that a loss of auditory input corresponds to decline in cognitive ability. In general, scientists have blamed this mental impairment on a lack of cognitive stimulation, reasoning that if certain parts fo the brain aren't used, such as the auditory centers, then other parts of the brain may start to shut down. There is some new research though that may contradict that general belief.

Social Isolation Causes Mental Decline

In a batch of recent studies, researchers have tried to pinpoint what variables, if any, related to the issues of hearing loss and mental decline. What they've found is that after accounting for numerous factors, including race and region of the county, the only variable that seems to matter is hearing aid use. In fact, research indicates that hard-of-hearing individuals who use hearing aids suffer mental decline that's more in line with people who don't have hearing loss at all.

One reason for this might be the theory that as the auditory centers in the brain shut down other parts begin to weaken as well. Increasingly though, a number of studies indicate that it isn't the inability to hear in and of itself that causes cognitive issues, but rather it's the social isolation that occurs as a result of hearing loss. People who have trouble hearing tend to avoid social situations out of fear that they won't be able to fully participate. Less social interaction means less mental stimulation, resulting in a more pronounced mental decline.

While the jury may still be out on exactly how hearing loss can lead to mental decline, there is little double that a causal relationship exists. As researchers learn more, they'll be better equipped to give people the tools they need to cope with hearing loss in ways that limit cognitive impairment.

If you or someone you know would like more information about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!

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