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Mental Acuity And Hearing Loss, What is The Link?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A phrase that gets frequently thrown around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. Most health care or psychology professionals call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are a few aspects that play into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, focus and the ability to comprehend or understand are just a few of the factors that can contribute to one’s mental acuity.

Besides mind altering illnesses like dementia, loss of hearing has also been verified as a contributing factor for mental decline.

The Connection Between Dementia And Your Hearing

In fact, Johns Hopkins University conducted one study which discover a relationship between dementia, a reduction in cognitive ability, and hearing loss. A six year study of 2000 people from the ages of 75-85 found that there was a 30 to 40 percent quicker mental decline in individuals who had from hearing loss.

In the study which researchers noticed a decrease in cognitive ability, memory and focus were two of the aspects highlighted. One Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying the relevance of loss of hearing just because it’s considered a normal part of getting older.

What Are The Problems From Hearing Impairment Beyond Memory Loss?

Not just loss of memory but stress, periods of unhappiness, and depression are also more likely in people with loss of hearing according to another study. In addition, that study’s hearing-impaired individuals were more likely to become hospitalized or injured in a fall.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t suffer from loss of hearing were less likely to develop dementia than those who did have hearing loss. Moreover, the study found a direct correlation between the severity of hearing loss and the likelihood to develop a mind-weakening condition. Participants with more extreme loss of hearing were as much as five times more likely to encounter symptoms of dementia.

And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of mental aptitude and hearing loss.

International Research Backs up a Correlation Between Loss of Hearing And Cognitive Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that dementia will be developed more often and earlier by people who suffer from loss of hearing than by people with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further and looked at age related hearing loss by examining two different causes. Through the assessment of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that participants with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive disability than those who had normal hearing or peripheral hearing loss. People who have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, commonly struggle to comprehend the words they can hear.

In the Italian study, people with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had poorer scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Though researchers were sure about the link between hearing loss and mental impairments, the cause responsible for correlation is still unknown.

How Can Hearing Loss Impact Mental Acuity?

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory about the brain’s temporal cortex. In speaking on that potential cause, the study’s lead author highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus located above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex are involved in comprehension of speech and words.

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and goes through changes as we get older along with the memory parts of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

If You Have Loss of Hearing, What Should You do?

The Italians believe this type of mild mental impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Americans who might be at risk is staggering.

Two of every three people over the age of 75 have lost some hearing ability, with significant loss of hearing in 48 million Americans. Hearing loss even affects 14 percent of people from 45 to 65.

The good news is that there are methods to mitigate these dangers with a hearing aid, which can offer a significant enhancement in hearing function for many people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
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