Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

People with hearing loss are more likely to experience cognitive decline. Cognitive decline impairs cognitive functions and takes a toll on brain health, contributing to conditions like dementia. Extensive research shows that hearing loss is a risk factor for cognitive decline. If you have hearing loss, it is critical to take action by getting your hearing assessed and your symptoms treated. Treating hearing loss not only transforms hearing but also supports brain health, reducing the risk of cognitive decline. 

Link Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline

Substantial research reveals that hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive decline. A major study that investigates this correlation was published in the  Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers assessed the hearing and cognitive capacities of 10,107 people. When the study started, people did not have any cognitive challenges. After eight years of being assessed, researchers found 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 

This data highlights two important findings: people with hearing loss were much more likely to experience cognitive decline, and the degree of hearing loss increases the risk. This study is part of extensive research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline. 

Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health

How exactly does hearing loss impact brain health? Well, it is important to know that hearing not only occurs in the ears but also in the brain. There Are specific portions of the brain that process auditory information. These areas can be impacted in ways that contribute to cognitive decline. 

A study conducted by researchers in the Department of Speech-Language and Hearing Science at the University of Colorado investigated how hearing loss impacts the brain. They did this by taking electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings of adults and children with and without varying degrees of hearing loss. Researchers found that people who had hearing loss also experienced: 

  • Less activity in the areas of the brain responsible for speech-language comprehension
  • Reorganization in the areas that process visual patterns

These observations suggest how the brain can change in response to hearing loss. Experts suggest that inactivity in specific areas of the brain can lead to the shrinking of these portions. Known as brain atrophy, this can cause a loss of neurons and weaken neural networks, which can contribute to cognitive decline. 

Hearing loss can also contribute to cognitive overload. The brain is forced to work harder in search for and to process sound signals. Other parts of the brain can intervene to compensate for hearing loss. The brain then uses more energy and is overworked in trying to hear, and this cognitive overload impacts cognitive functions. In addition to brain atrophy and cognitive overload, another way the brain is impacted by hearing loss is reduced engagement. Social withdrawal is a major effect of untreated hearing loss. To avoid communication because of symptoms, people tend to avoid conversations. This includes spending less time with others, participating less in hobbies, and skipping out on social activities. Social withdrawal can result in less engagement and stimulation for the brain, which can also contribute to cognitive decline. 

Treatment Reduces Risk of Cognitive Decline

There are effective ways hearing loss is treated, which not only transform hearing health but also support brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. The most common treatment is hearing aids – electronic devices that are designed to absorb and process speech and sound. This provides the ears and brain with significant support, making it easier to hear and communicate. Research shows that hearing aids can strengthen cognitive function and support brain health. 

A study that looks at the impact of hearing aids on brain health was conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne. Researchers assessed the cognitive capacities of nearly 100 people before and after wearing 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)”. These findings and further research highlights that hearing aids provide ample support that improves cognitive functions and strengthens brain health. 

Get Treatment

The first step towards treatment is having your hearing evaluated. Prioritize your hearing health today by scheduling an appointment for a hearing consultation. Contact American Hearing + Audiology for an appointment at one of our top-rated hearing centers.