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Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets commonly thrown around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. The majority of health care or psychology professionals call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are a few aspects that play into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, focus and the ability to comprehend or understand are just some of the areas that can contribute to a person’s mental acuity.

Mind-altering ailments such as dementia are commonly considered the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but loss of hearing has also been consistently linked as another major cause of cognitive decline.

Between Dementia And Your Hearing What is The Connection?

In fact, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University found a connection between dementia, a decline in cognitive ability, and hearing loss. Through a study of 2,000 people function between the ages of 75-84 during a six-year period, researchers concluded that participants who had loss of hearing had a 30 to 40 percent faster decline in cognitive function than those who had normal hearing.

Memory and concentration were two of the areas outlined by the study in which researchers noticed a reduction in mental capabilities. And though hearing loss is commonly considered a normal part of getting older, one Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying its relevance.

What Are The Concerns From Impaired Hearing Beyond Memory Loss?

In a different study, the same researchers discovered that a case of hearing impairment could not only quicken the process of cognitive decline, but is more likely to result in stress, depression or periods of sadness. Hospitalization and injury from a fall were also found to be more likely in this study’s participants.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who suffered from hearing loss at the onset of the study were more likely to experience dementia than those who have healthy hearing. And an even more revealing statistic from this study was that the likelihood of someone developing a mind-weakening condition and hearing loss had a direct correlation. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in people with more severe loss of hearing.

But the work done by researchers at Johns Hopkins is hardly the first to stake a claim for the connection between loss of hearing and a lack of mental aptitude.

A Connection Between Mental Decline And Loss of Hearing is Supported by International Research

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that dementia will be developed more often and sooner by people who suffer from hearing loss than by those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further by examining two separate causes of age-related hearing loss. Through the examination of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that participants with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive impairment than those with average hearing or peripheral hearing loss. Generally, people struggle to comprehend words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

In the Italian study, participants with lower scores on speech comprehension evaluations also had lower scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Even though researchers were sure about the relationship between loss of hearing and mental impairments, the cause behind the correlation remains a mystery.

The Way Hearing Loss Can Impact Mental Acuity

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory about the brain’s temporal cortex. When talking about that potential cause, the study’s lead author emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are located above the ear and play a role in the recognition of spoken words.

The auditory cortex functions as a receiver of information and undergoes changes as we grow older along with the memory parts of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What to do if You Have Hearing Loss

A pre-clinical stage of dementia, as reported by the Italian study, is parallel to a mild form of mental impairment. It should definitely be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s staggering the amount of Americans who are at risk.

Out of all people, two of three have lost some ability to hear if they are over the age of 75, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is regarded as considerable loss of hearing. Even 14 percent of people ages 45 to 64 are impacted by hearing loss.

Hearing aids can offer a considerable improvement in hearing function decreasing dangers for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Make an appointment with a hearing care specialist to see if you need hearing aids.

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