Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

There are many hidden health risks associated with untreated hearing loss. With nearly 1 in 8 people having some degree of hearing loss, it is one of the most pervasive health conditions that people live with today. Though it is common, it is widely undertreated – only a third of people who could benefit from treatment actually receiving it. This highlights how common untreated hearing loss tends to be. Not only can untreated symptoms worsen hearing health, but it can increase a number of health risks including cognitive decline.  

Link Between Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline 

Studies show that there is a significant correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. A major study that investigates this link was published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers evaluated the cognitive and hearing capacities for 10,107 people over an 8 year period. While participants did not have cognitive challenges when the study began, after 8 years of evaluation, researchers found that cognitive decline was: 

  • 30% higher for people with mild hearing loss 
  • 42% higher for people with moderate hearing loss 
  • 54% higher for people with severe hearing loss 

These findings show that compared to people without hearing loss, people with hearing loss were much more likely to experience cognitive decline. This data also reveals that the greater or more severe the hearing loss is, the higher the risk can be for cognitive decline. This study supports extensive research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline. 

Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health 

There are a few ways that hearing loss can impact brain health that then contributes to cognitive decline. It is useful to understand that hearing loss not only happens in the ears but also the brain. There are specific portions of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information. As a result of hearing loss, the brain can experience: 

  • Atrophy: hearing loss involves the brain receiving less auditory information. This means that the parts of the brain that process this information are less active and engaged. Due to being underutilized, they can shrink which involves a loss of neurons, inactivity, and structural changes. Brain atrophy can contribute to cognitive decline. 
  • Cognitive overload: to compensate for hearing loss, other areas of the brain can intervene to help detect and process sound. This uses extra resources and energy which can lead to cognitive overload, another way cognitive overload can happen.
  • Less stimulation: a common effect of untreated hearing loss is social withdrawal. To avoid conversations, people often avoid spending time with others and social settings. This means less stimulation and engagement for the brain which can also contribute to cognitive decline. 

These outcomes can take a toll on brain health. This highlights the importance of intervening as early as possible to address hearing loss symptoms which can transform your health and quality of life. 

Hearing Aids Reduce Risk of Cognitive Decline

Hearing aids are the most common way hearing loss is treated. These electronic devices are designed to absorb, amplogy, and process speech as well as sound. Studies show that hearing aids strengthen cognitive functions, reducing the risk of cognitive decline:

  • University of Melbourne Study: researchers assessed the hearing and cognitive abilities of nearly 100 people (ages 62-82), before and after the use of hearing aids. They found that:  
  • “97% of participants showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function (mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks)”. 
  • Study Published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society: researchers performed memory tests on 2,000 people (ages 50 and older). They found that wearing hearing aids increased test scores and improved memory. They concluded that hearing aids can significantly improve brain health and outcomes. 

These studies are part of extensive research that shows the many benefits of wearing hearing aids. These innovative pieces of technology provide ample support that help people navigate daily life with greater ease. 

Prioritize Your Hearing Health Today

You can prioritize your hearing health with one simple step: scheduling an appointment for a hearing test. This involves a noninvasive and painless process that comprehensively evaluates your hearing capacities which informs the best treatment options for you. Treating hearing loss not only supports brain health but also improves relationships, social life, and daily wellness. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation!