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Hearing Loss Linked to Mental Decline Later in Life

by April Maguire

Hearing loss is a growing concern, affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Without question, dealing with the effects of hearing loss is challenging in and of itself, but there is a growing body of evidence which shows that auditory problems can lead to even greater challenges down the line. In particular, there is a general consensus in the scientific community that hearing difficulties can contribute to mental decline in seniors.

Recent Studies

Two recent studies illustrate the negative impact that hearing loss can have on overall quality of life. In one study, a team of researchers in Wisconsin examined more than 200 middle-aged participants over the span of two years. In that time, they found a direct correlation between the degree of hearing loss and the amount of cognitive decline, specifically the ability to form fluent, cogent sentences. Similarly, a separate team tracked nearly 800 middle-aged participants over the course of four years. In their findings, they determined that individuals who were hard of hearing were more than twice as likely to develop cognitive and memory issues.

Hearing Loss and Mental Decline

On the surface, these two conditions would seem to be largely separate. After all, how could hearing impairment possibly lead to memory loss? The leading answer to this question has to do with the hearing center's impact on the overall health of your brain.

You've probably heard the old adage that your brain is a muscle; the more that you use it, the stronger it gets. Although that isn't technically true, the sentiment is largely accurate. The more stimulation your brain receives, the healthier it is. Therefore, when it stops receiving auditory input, the hearing centers in your brain weaken, which can cause a domino effect that negatively impacts your mental state as a whole.

Additionally, people who are hard of hearing tend to alter their lifestyles in ways that contribute to this mental decline. For example, individuals with hearing loss tend to avoid social situations and interpersonal interactions. The result, once again, is diminished brain activity, leading to greater cognitive impairment and memory loss.

Surprisingly though, scientists still aren't entirely sure how hearing impairment and mental decline are connected. The theory that the brain atrophies due to diminished auditory stimulation is logical, but it's also possible that the inverse is true. Perhaps hearing loss is simply an early symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, more research is needed to determine what types of intervention, if any, could be employed to preserve an individual's hearing as well as their mental acuity.

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!

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