Cognitive Decline and Hearing Loss: Is There a Link?

There is simply no denying the relationship that our ability to hear has with our mental health. With hearing loss leading to increased dementia and Alzheimer's disease amongst others, don't hesitate to have your or your loved one's hearing checked.

One of the hardest parts of having hearing loss is feeling isolated. When you are less able to follow a conversation or hear everything in a movie or a play, you can feel cut off from the people around you, including family and friends.

This isn’t just in your head, either; scientific research has shown that this feeling of hearing loss-related isolation can actually lead to cognitive decline - forgetfulness, difficulty in focusing, a decreased ability to problem-solve and personality changes.

Frank Lin is an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. He is also a specialist in age-related hearing loss (ARHL). Dr. Lin often refers to two independent U.S. studies showing that a 25 dB shift in the speech-frequency pure-tone average is equal to nearly seven years of aging on cognitive test scores of older adults.

Lin also cites a study that shows a higher risk of dementia among those with hearing loss. These risks increase as hearing loss evolves from mild to moderate and from moderate to severe.

The University of Gothenburg conducted a study on individuals over 80 years of age and its results showed a decrease in extroversion after a diagnosis of hearing impairment.

This same decrease was not seen in other “typical” age-related conditions, including poor sight or poor general health. “Our study shows that among all ill-health conditions, a specific functional deterioration such as impaired hearing was unique in its contribution to accelerating the change in personality,” says Dr. Anne Ingeborg Berg of the University of Gothenburg.

Speak to your physician.

While a link between cognitive decline and hearing loss has been suspected for some time now, some primary care physicians still neglect to check for a hearing loss in their patients.

Every doctor knows that hearing loss can result in cognitive problems, but they still don’t focus on it as a priority when they evaluate someone with suspected dementia – which is a big missed opportunity,” says P. Murali Doraiswamy M.D., a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University School of Medicin and co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan. “The benefits of correcting hearing loss on cognition are twice as large as the benefits from any cognitive-enhancing drugs now on the market. It should be the first thing we focus on."

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