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Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets commonly thrown around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. It’s called, by most health care specialistssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, But the measurement of mental acuity takes into account several aspects. A person’s mental acuity is influenced by numerous elements such as memory, concentration, and the ability to understand and comprehend.

Mind-altering conditions such as dementia are usually regarded as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently associated as another major factor in mental decline.

The Link Between Dementia And Your Hearing

In fact, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University discover a link between dementia, a loss in cognitive ability, and loss of hearing. Through a study of 2,000 people age 75-84 during a six-year period, researchers found that individuals who suffered from loss of hearing had a 30 to 40 percent faster decrease in cognitive function than those who had normal hearing.

In the study which researchers noted a reduction in cognitive capability, memory and concentration were two of the areas outlined. One Johns Hopkins professor warned against downplaying the significance of loss of hearing just because it’s considered a normal part of getting older.

Loss of Memory is Not The Only Concern With Impaired Hearing

Not only memory loss but stress, periods of unhappiness, and depression are also more likely in those that have hearing loss according to another study. Additionally, 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 individuals who did have hearing loss. Additionally, the study discovered a direct link between the severity of hearing loss and the probability of developing a mind-weakening affliction. People with more extreme hearing loss 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 cognitive ability and hearing loss.

International Research Supports a Connection Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that individuals with hearing loss developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy went even further by examining two separate causes of age-related hearing loss. People with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to have mental impairment than people with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists examined both peripheral and central hearing loss. Generally, people struggle to comprehend words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

Scores on cognitive tests pertaining to memory and thought were lower in those people who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.

Even though researchers were confident in the connection between hearing loss and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation remains a mystery.

The Way Hearing Loss Can Affect Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory that revolves around the brain’s temporal cortex. When talking about that potential cause, the study’s lead researcher emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are found above the ear and are involved in the recognition of spoken words.

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

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

The Italians think this kind of mild cognitive impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should certainly be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Us citizens who may be in danger 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. Loss of hearing even affects 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64.

Hearing aids can offer a considerable improvement in hearing function mitigating risks for most people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
To find out if you need hearing aids schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist.