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Mental Acuity and Hearing Loss, What is The Link?

Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets frequently thrown around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. It’s called, by most health care expertssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several factors that play into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, focus and the ability to comprehend or understand are just some of the areas that can contribute to a person’s mental acuity.

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

Between Dementia And Your Hearing What is The Connection?

In fact, Johns Hopkins University carried out one study that found a connection between hearing loss, dementia and a decline in cognitive ability. Through a study of 2,000 men and women function between the ages of 75-84 over a six-year period, researchers concluded that participants who had hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent quicker decline in mental function than those with normal hearing.

Memory and concentration were two of the areas highlighted by the study in which researchers noticed a reduction in cognitive abilities. One Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying the relevance of loss of hearing just because it’s regarded as a typical aspect of aging.

Complications From Hearing Impairments Beyond Memory Loss

In another study, those same researchers found that a case of hearing impairment could not only accelerate the process of mental decline, but is more likely to lead to stress, depression or periods of sadness. In addition, that study’s hearing-impaired participants 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 hearing loss were not as likely to develop dementia than those who did have loss of hearing. Additionally, the study found a direct link between the severity of loss of hearing and the likelihood to develop a mind-weakening affliction. Individuals with more extreme loss of hearing were as much as five times more likely to suffer symptoms of dementia.

But the work performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins is hardly the first to stake a claim for the link between loss of hearing and a lack of mental aptitude.

A Correlation Between Mental Decline And Hearing Loss is Backed by International Research

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

One study in Italy went even further by examining two different causes of age-related hearing loss. Through the examination of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that participants with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive impairment than those with average hearing or peripheral 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 involving memory and thought were lower in those people who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.

Though the cause of the link between loss of hearing and cognitive impairment is still not known, researchers are confident in the connection.

The Way Loss of Hearing Can Impact Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory about 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 positioned above the ear and are involved in the recognition of spoken words.

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and goes through 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.

What Can You do if You Have Hearing Loss?

The Italians believe this type of mild mental impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s staggering the amount of Us citizens who are in danger.

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

Fortunately there are methods to mitigate these risks with a hearing aid, which can provide a significant improvement in hearing function for many people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
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