The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline: All What You Need to Know
As we grow older, we tend to experience some sort of decline in our cognitive ability. Many studies suggest that old people experiencing hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been assumed that hearing loss is associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline.
Hearing loss is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. Studies have shown that people with hearing loss are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The exact mechanisms behind this link are not fully understood, but it is thought that hearing loss can lead to changes in brain structure and function, which can contribute to cognitive decline.
When hearing declines, cognitive health declines as well. Why Is this? How can it be reduced or managed?
Hearing loss can be frustrating for those who have it and those surrounding them. It doesn’t only mean that an old person needs to turn on the TV when watching. It has been recently linked to many health problems; dementia included.
Hearing loss makes the brain work slower and harder. Those with severe hearing loss experience more cognitive deficits in a short period of time than those with moderate hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is a widespread problem for old people. It makes it difficult for the person to communicate and understand conversations. It is caused by changes in:
The blood supply that flows in the inner ear
The nerves that are reliable for hearing
The processes the brain undergoes when it comes to speech and sound
Some symptoms of age-related hearing loss are:
Asking others to repeat themselves numerous times
Feeling the people around are mumbling or speaking unclearly
Difficulty hearing and understanding conversations taking place around
Missing words while talking on the phone
Turning the volume of the TV or radio, louder than usual
Major effects of hearing loss on elderly are:
We cannot talk about cognitive impairment without mentioning dementia. Latest research has shown that not only hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline, but it is considered one of the main causes of hearing loss for it.
The brain contains nerve cells, known as neurons, which are responsible for transmitting different messages and allowing the brain to function normally. When cognitive decline takes place, these neurons weaken and stop functioning properly. If it starts to interfere with the normal activities in your daily life, this is when it is classified as dementia. Symptoms include:
Changes in mood and behavior
Cognitive decline is the early warning sign that there is something wrong with the brain. Dementia becomes the more advanced stage where these signs become serious and affect the person’s ability to function in the normal way.
Relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline
There has always been an increasing correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. People with hearing loss, mainly those who suffer from presbycusis, start to rely more on visual processing skills. This leads to an overload of visual information, which impairs the brain’s ability to process and store different information.
It is very important to mention though that not all those with suffer from hearing loss will have cognitive decline. There is a high probability and many researches have shown a strong link. Nevertheless, many people who develop presbycusis might lead a normal life without any cognitive decline.
There are many theories that explain the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Some of which are:
One theory suggests that it has to do with cognitive load. The person with hearing loss requires extra efforts and increased amount of concentration to understand speech and sounds in general than normal people without this problem.
If hearing loss isn’t treated efficiently and effectively, the brain gets overworked by constantly trying to understand sound and speech. This causes the brain not to work in the right way because it is doing extra effort to function normally. This leaves less energy for other tasks to be done.
Another theory suggests that it has to do with brain structure. Brain stems might shrink from the lack of stimulation, in addition to some parts of the brain that process and receive sound. Some changes might occur in the auditory cortex in the brain and in the nuclei in the ascending auditory pathways. These connections begin to atrophy.
One of the theories is that it has to do with social isolation. Many people isolate themselves when they start experiencing hearing loss. They feel ashamed of their new situation and prefer to stay home away from people. Some might feel depressed and insecure, especially when they become unable to understand what others are saying and they feel they have to ask others to repeat what they said several times.
This theory suggests that the more isolated the person becomes, the less stimuli their brain grasps.
Importance of hearing care for the overall health care
One of the most important things we can do to keep our body and brain healthy is to stay mentally stimulated. Leading an active life can keep us mentally engaged.
Protecting our ears is the key point.
Early intervention is the key to mitigate the risks of cognitive decline.
Solutions that reduce cognitive decline
There are many steps that you can take on order to protect your brain in case you have hearing loss. Some are:
New researches done recently showed the effect of hearing loss and dementia in 2023 and the importance of utilizing hearing aids in solving the problems that arise afterwards. The proper use of hearing aids help decreases the risk factor of dementia. Studies have shown that people who have hearing loss and wear hearing aids have a lower risk of dementia and depression, whereas people who don’t wear hearing aids have a higher risk.
The key here is not in the ability to hear better. It is how better hearing allows the person to live a normal life and stay involved in their everyday life, surrounded by their family and friends.
Hearing aids improve social interactions and mood. They help the brain participate in stimulating activities that slow down the cognitive decline.
Engaging in activities and exercises that stimulate the brain is a major step in cognitive health. It is very important to keep your mind active all the time, especially if you want to protect it from cognitive decline. Some examples include:
Listening to music
Doing crafts and art
Regular aerobic and strength-training exercises protect against cognitive decline.
If you want to stimulate cognitive processes and keep the mind sharp, social interaction is a must.
Engage in conversations that require active listening, responding appropriately and processing information. All of this contributes to cognitive functioning.
Get all the support needed from family and friends. This gives a feeling of belonging and emotional wellbeing, source of encouragement, motivation and assistance in coping with hearing loss.
There are many measures that you can take to minimize the risks associated with hearing loss.
Avoid constant exposure to loud sounds.
Get regular checkups by a professional audiologist. Talking to a qualified expert improves awareness of your situation and gives you advice on the right methods to choose.
We might not be able to stop our cognitive decline. However, the good news is that we can try and slow it down. Understanding the connection between hearing loss and brain fitness can aid in reaching a better overall health in the long run. Managing your hearing loss can delay and reduce cognitive decline!