The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Hearing loss isn’t just a sign of getting older. It could be a sign that you’re suffering from something much worse than simply old age. Hearing loss has been linked to several health concerns, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

More and more studies show a conclusive link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline. According to a study published in Geriatrics and Gerontology International, older individuals with hearing loss were more likely to experience some degree of memory loss than those with normal hearing.

It’s estimated that one in three people older than age 60 have hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, is hearing loss that occurs gradually as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting adults.

Presbycusis typically occurs due to changes in:

Common signs of hearing loss include:

  • Asking people to repeat what they say
  • Feeling like others are always mumbling or not speaking clearly
  • Difficulty hearing and understanding speech in noisy environments
  • Missing words or phrases on the telephone
  • Turning the volume up on the television or radio louder than normal

Even though hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults, only 20 percent of individuals afflicted seek treatment. On average, hearing aid users wait over 10 years after their initial diagnosis to finally get fit with hearing aids. This lack of treatment can create many detriments to one’s health – physical and cognitive.

Older man feeling withdrawn due to hearing loss and contributing to cognitive decline.

Effects Greater Than Decibels

Hearing loss and cognitive decline are beginning to go hand-in-hand. People with untreated hearing loss are susceptible to a decreased quality of life. And the impact of hearing loss isn’t simply measured in decibels. Unfortunately, it is far greater than that. In addition to the inability to hear, hearing loss is often associated with depression, sadness, and poor social relationships. All of which are key factors contributing to cognitive decline. Hearing loss and cognitive decline are beginning to go hand-in-hand. Hearing loss and cognitive decline are beginning to go hand-in-hand.

Individuals with difficulty hearing tend to withdraw from social settings. If you can’t hear, you can’t participate in ongoing conversations. This alone leads to the following:

Anxiety and Depression:

Not being able to hear can become stressful, especially for people trying to communicate and be productive, such as in a work setting. If left untreated, hearing loss can have a negative impact on your mental health, thus increasing levels of anxiety and depression. These mental health conditions not only affect your feelings but they also affect the way your brain works and processes information. For example, tasks that involve recalling information become much more difficult.

Increased Isolation:

Because socializing becomes challenging and stressful, many with untreated hearing loss begin isolating themselves from social settings and other people. This has an adverse effect on your brain as it is no longer exposed to the stimulation that occurs during socialization. Just as your body needs exercise to keep moving and functioning, so does your brain. Conversations and interactions are exercises for your brain. A lack of these activities can impair your memory function and cognitive performance. It can also lead to cerebral atrophy or loss of brain neurons (cells).

In addition to the effects listed above, untreated hearing loss also makes it harder to concentrate. When you can’t hear or have difficulty hearing someone, you put your focus and attention on trying to understand what they are saying. Although this seems fine, it has lingering cognitive effects. Struggling to understand makes your brain work harder unnecessarily and forces your brain to strain and attempt to fill in the gaps. This depletes your brain of energy. When you spend all your energy trying to hear, your brain isn’t working on remembering what is being listened to.

When To See an Audiologist

If you’re struggling to make out speech or suspect that you’re experiencing hearing loss, have an open and honest conversation with your primary care provider. They can assist you in finding a qualified audiologist that will examine your ears and perform a hearing test to determine what type and degree of hearing loss you may have.

From there, you can work with your provider to find a treatment option that best fits your needs. There’s no reason to be embarrassed or worry about your appearance with hearing aids. The hearing aid industry has come a long way since the days when they used to wrap around the ears and be a sight for sore eyes. Now, you can discreetly place them inside your ears and even match them to your skin tone to where they are virtually invisible.

Treating hearing loss not only gives you back your ability to hear. It gives you back your freedom to communicate with ease. And most of all, it helps to safeguard your brain and keep dementia and Alzheimer’s at bay.

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