hearing loss and cognitive decline

Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

Suncoast AudiologyHearing Loss

As we age, our bodies and minds begin to show wear and tear. After years of faithful service, we begin to feel the cumulative effects of those years. Not only do most people experience some hearing loss in their senior years, particularly over age 70, but our minds can also lose some sharpness. Many people have memory issues or more serious cognitive decline in these same years after age 70. Although you might think it is a coincidence that the two occur in so many elderly people, recent research shows that there might be a connection between them. Indeed, with so many people experiencing cognitive decline and hearing loss at the same time, it is difficult to discern if one is causing the other. Researchers and statisticians are working hard to understand the connection between these two conditions, and it looks like untreated hearing loss might be contributing to the likelihood of cognitive decline and even dementia. 


Communication and Cognitive Health


If you take a look at the numbers, they are quite suggestive of a link. Those who have untreated hearing loss show a 5 times greater risk of memory and cognitive issues than their demographic counterparts who do not have hearing loss. Other studies have shown that those who have hearing loss not only have a much higher risk of dementia, but if they do develop dementia, they tend to have a higher rate of decline in their mental functioning. What could account for this strong connection? 


Cognitive scientists point to the crucial function of communication in keeping our brains healthy. When a person does not have hearing loss, they are able to carry on conversations that keep their minds agile, quickly responding to the stimulus provided by a conversation and improvising a response based on past knowledge and experience. Although we don’t think about conversations in these terms, they are in fact a rapid exchange of sensory stimuli and complex thoughts, making them akin to “exercise” for our brains. However, if a person has untreated hearing loss, what was once a fluid connection between words and meanings can become a jumbled mess of meaningless syllables and sounds. 


Brain imaging technology has shown that those who have untreated hearing loss, even a mild case, recruit parts of their brain that are usually devoted to complex thought toward the comparatively simple act of transforming audio stimuli into meaningful sounds. This process suggests that the brain might be reorganizing its functioning in ways we don’t even realize when hearing loss is getting in the way of communication. That reorganization could be responsible for more general cognitive decline and even dementia. 


Hearing Loss Treatment


When you get treatment for hearing loss, not only are you repairing your ability to communicate in the moment, but you are also setting yourself up for better cognitive functioning going forward. Studies have shown that those who use hearing aids regularly are able to improve that additional risk of dementia, making them more similar to those who don’t have hearing loss in the first place. If you have someone in your life who seems to have issues with hearing ability, the problems are not limited to communication and lost enjoyment of the sounding world. 


With the greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia in mind, it is crucial to get assistance sooner than later. Treatment for hearing loss in the form of hearing aids is a great way to improve social connections and mental wellbeing, but it can also have profound effects on cognitive functioning and memory. Why not take this opportunity to help your loved one get the assistance they need? 


You can start by encouraging them to get a hearing test. This diagnostic exam will set you off in the right direction, making it possible for our experts to find the right hearing aids for their needs. We will guide the process to make sure that the right treatment is provided, so you don’t have to worry about the wide array of options out there that might not be suited to their individual condition. With hearing aids in place, your loved one will not only reap benefits for social connections and communication but also for cognitive functioning down the line.