With hearing loss affecting 30% of US adults aged 65+ and 11.2% over the age of 45 with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), more and more research is being done on the connection between a person’s hearing ability and brain health.
It’s been proven that our degree of hearing loss plays a role in our ability to stay mentally sharp as we age. Untreated hearing loss can lead to isolation and loneliness, which means the auditory center of the brain is less frequently stimulated by conversation.
Hearing Loss Heightens the Risk of Cognitive Decline
Many studies have linked hearing loss to an increased risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Adults with a hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing.
What Happens to the Brain When There Is Hearing Loss?
Hearing impairment changes the cognitive load in the brain. Functional MRIs (MRIs that measure brain activity) in persons with a hearing loss show activity in other parts of the brain besides the auditory cortex when an auditory stimulus is presented, which some researchers say means the auditory cortex is hijacking cells normally used for cognitive skills.
As people find it increasingly difficult to follow conversation, their hearing loss also leads to reduced social engagement.
All these factors lead to impaired cognitive function and dementia.
These Risks of Impaired Cognitive Function Are Modifiable
There is good news though. According to the 2020 Lancet Commission study, there are 12 modifiable lifestyle factors for the prevention of dementia. That means that 40% of the cases are considered PREVENTABLE.
The number one modifiable risk factor is the medical treatment of hearing loss. A growing number of studies find a direct correlation between hearing intervention and the arrest and/or the potential reversal of cognitive decline.
Interestingly, the functional MRIs were repeated after people’s hearing loss was treated with hearing aids, and when the auditory stimulus was presented, the neural activity went back to the auditory cortex only – the cognitive load shifted back to the appropriate area of the brain.
How an Audiologist Can Help Prevent Cognitive Decline
Hear in Texas offers cognitive screening for those with a hearing loss to determine if the cognitive load is shifting in their brains. We use the results to suggest the type of hearing aid that will be most effective. After eight weeks of hearing aid use, we repeat the test and often see the scores improve.
So, if you want to make sure you can do everything possible to prevent dementia, add getting your hearing checked to the list.