If you have been recently diagnosed with hearing loss you may feel as if it is something you can ignore or put off dealing with. In fact, it takes most people 7 to 10 years from the time they are diagnosed with hearing loss to actually seek treatment. By that time some of the dangerous side effects of hearing loss have already begun to progress to more acute levels. You may have heard that untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline and even dementia if it is ignored. Now, recent research has found that even a mild hearing loss can put you at risk for cognitive decline, which in turn increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia down the road.
What is Mild Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is measured in decibels and the greater the damage to your ears the more of a deficit you can develop. A mild hearing loss is a deficit of 25 to 40 decibels. This will make it difficult for you to hear subtle sounds which are easy to take for granted such as birds chirping, the wind in the trees or a whispered conversation. It is all too easy to go years before you notice a mild hearing loss. Often this occurs when a person with health hearing speaks of a sound that they hear which is out of range for you. In comparison to mild hearing loss, moderate hearing loss is measured as a loss in decibels between 40-69dB and a severe hearing loss is recorded at a loss ranging between 70-94. The issue often lies in that hearing loss is a progressive disorder, meaning that if you have a mild hearing loss it is likely that it can become more severe over time.
Mild Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
A 2019 study published in the JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery journal illuminated just how dangerous a mild hearing loss can be to your cognitive ability. The study examined 6,400 patients over 50 with and without hearing loss and found a strong correlation between even a mild hearing loss and its effects on cognitive decline. The study found that even a mild hearing loss caused patients to report cognitive decline by 30 percent higher than those who reported no hearing loss. With moderate hearing loss the risk of cognitive decline rose to 42% and as for severe hearing loss the percentage jumped to 52%! These findings were found to stay the same even when taking into account disparities such as age, gender, economic status and heart disease.
Slight Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
The study also found an alarming effect on cognitive ability for those who had just a slight hearing loss of 15dB. A slight hearing loss may make it difficult to hear in a crowd or just very subtle sounds, but most likely you would not notice this at all. Even so the effects to your brain health when living with a slight hearing loss were found to be significant. The study administered tests to measure cognitive ability and found that people with a decibel loss of 15dB scored lower in quickness and attention span.
Why Does Hearing Loss Cause Cognitive Decline?
The problem with hearing loss is that even a subtle amount limits the sound information our brain has to work with. This loss in certain tones or parts of words forces our brains to work harder. This can take away energy to other areas of cognitive function. Your brain is like a muscle and needs to be stimulated to stay quick and clear. When energy is diverted from other cognitive areas to process sound it can not only cause your brain to strain but cause exhaustion. When it is exhausting to listen and respond, often people choose to avoid conversations when they can instead of challenging the brain by introducing new situations.
Treating Hearing Loss
It is all too easy to let slight or even mild hearing loss go unaddressed and undiagnosed. This is why it is important to monitor your hearing loss at least annually no matter your age. Detecting a hearing loss early allows you to seek treatment sooner, which can reduce the strain on your brain and keep you thinking quick and clear for years to come. Make an appointment with us today to find out how to treat your hearing loss now, before it can get worse.