Researchers have studied the relationship between hearing loss and mental capacity for quite a while, and recent studies shine further light on how the two may be linked.
While research has not yet been able to definitively pin down a connection between your ears and your brain’s level of function, there is more and more evidence to suggest that cognitive ability may be impacted by hearing loss.
Dr. Frank Lin from the highly regarded Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has authored several studies on the topic. According to an article by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), one recent study suggested that hearing loss “seemed to speed up age-related cognitive decline”. The article states:
“In a 2013 study, he and his colleagues tracked the overall cognitive abilities (including concentration, memory and planning skills) of nearly 2,000 older adults whose average age was 77. After six years, those who began the study with hearing loss severe enough to interfere with conversation were 24 percent more likely than those with normal hearing to have seen their cognitive abilities diminish.”
While there’s no specifically known reason that hearing loss can lead to dementia, some potential links have included:
- The possible effects of increased “cognitive load” from constantly straining to hear and comprehend, potentially taking valuable resources away from the brain’s functions responsible for memory.
- A commonality in physiological factors that may possibly cause both conditions.
- Some parts of the brain shrinking from not getting used enough, like the area that process speech.
- The social isolation that can be inherent with many people who suffer from hearing loss.
Looking on the Bright Side
While it may seem cruel that hearing loss doesn’t discriminate, if a firm link can be established between hearing loss and mental health, there are some reasons for optimism about that discovery:
- With more awareness about a possible link, people could potentially become more proactive about addressing hearing loss at the first sign.
- As we better understand the potential link between the two conditions, it may lead to better treatment methods going forward;
- And of course, it’s certainly not the case that everyone who develops hearing loss as they age. It’s simply suggested that those with hearing loss are at increased risk of developing a neurocognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
The important takeaway from this research, says Lin, is that people should take care of their hearing loss and hearing health as well as possible.