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Hearing Aids Reduce Risk of Cognitive Decline


January 15, 2016

When Americans reach their 70s, about two-thirds suffer from some degree of hearing loss.  According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, hearing loss may increase the risk of cognitive problems, including dementia.  Researchers from Johns Hopkins concluded that older adults with some degree of hearing loss, the loss of brain tissue happens at an accelerated rate when compared to the brain tissue of those with normal hearing.  Thankfully, there is an upside: although research is ongoing, experts believe hearing aids can potentially delay or completely prevent the onset of cognitive decline and dementia. 

How can hearing loss lead to cognitive decline and dementia?  The two are closer linked than previously believed.  Here are three main theories as to how hearing loss contributes to cognitive decline and dementia:
 
  1. Cognitive Load:  When we suffer from any degree of hearing loss, the neuropathways of our brain that responds to sound become reorganized, causing more time for our brains to cognitively process these sounds.  This is detrimental because it interferes with the listener’s ability to accurately process any auditory information and make sense of it.  If you have mild hearing loss that is not being treated, the cognitive load on your brain is detrimental.  The amount of effort it takes to perceive and understand what is being said takes away recourses from storing what you have heard into your memory.  Thankfully for many people, hearing aids provide the sound stimulation that our brains need to restore the normal organization of our neuropathways.
  2. Brain Atrophy:  Studies of brain images have shown that older adults with some level of loss of hearing have less gray matter in the areas that process and recognize sound.  This finding suggests that that area of the brain reorganizes itself and compensates by increasing the universal load of older adults, which is also thought to be responsible for cognitive decline. 
  3. Social Isolation:  People can withdrawal from social interactions due to the struggle of keeping up with conversations that they cannot hear.  Family and friends may not understand completely, only adding to the person’s frustration.  Feeling socially isolated can lead to irritability, anger, fatigue, stress, depression, and loneliness.  There is good news, though:  hearing aids can potentially delay or completely prevent the onset of cognitive decline and dementia. Although hearing aids will not cure you of your hearing loss, you can be confident in social interactions that you won’t miss a second of the conversation.
These findings highlight the importance of diagnosing and treating hearing loss early, as well as the consequences of ignoring hearing problems. All those working in hearing aid or hearing loss prevention should be sure to discuss with their patients the ways that hearing aids can provide benefit in all aspects of their health — brain health included.

Resonance Hearing Aids is dedicated to helping everyone with hearing problems to be able to get diagnosed, participate in audiogram testing, and receive their hand-picked hearing aids at a reasonable price. If you feel you have been suffering a slow but pervasive problem with your hearing, please contact our experts here or call (720) 660-8960 to set up an appointment.