Hearing Loss and Mental Decline in Older Adults

Hearing Loss and Mental Decline in Older Adults

Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center / June 15, 2017

Loss of some hearing abilities and a less-than-perfect memory are two key factors typically associated with aging. Although common and previously considered mutually exclusive, new studies are now finding that hearing loss and mental decline may be related.

Studies have found that problems with memory and thinking are much more common in older adults with hearing loss than their counterparts without hearing impairment. In addition, this study (also concluded that on average, those with hearing loss developed significant mental decline three years earlier than those without hearing concerns.

Yikes – Am I at Risk?

It has been found that about two-thirds of American adults over the age of 70 have some degree of hearing loss. Could you be one? It is important to schedule yearly hearing assessments with a specialist at least once a year starting at age 60 to keep track of your hearing abilities and determine which interventions (if any) may be needed to improve them. Once you have completed your hearing assessment, it is also important to follow the instructions of your audiologist or hearing aid specialist. Otologist and epidemiologist Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD, the doctor who led the study remarks that sadly, only about 15% of people who need hearing aids actually use them.

If your hearing specialist recommends hearing aids – use them!

What have the studies found?

The study, led by Dr. Lin, MD, PhD, was conduced at the John Hopkins University School in Baltimore. It included 2,000 men and women in their 70s and 80s and began in the 1990s. Participants’ hearing was tested in year 5 of the study, and assessments of mental capacity were conduced for six years thereafter.

According to this study, participants with hearing loss suffered mental decline and problems with memory and thinking 30-40% faster than those without hearing loss. As may be expected, the more severe the hearing loss, the sharper the decline in mental functioning.

Why the increased risk?

Although this study didn’t specifically study why there may be a link between mental decline and untreated hearing loss, Dr. Lin offered some theories. The first theory is social isolation. Loneliness has been linked to mental decline, and people with hearing loss are more likely to withdraw from social situations and become isolated than those with healthy hearing.

A second theory works off the idea that the amount of information the brain can hold and the functions it can preform are limited for any given time. “The job of the inner ear is to take in sounds and encode them with accurate fidelity before the signal goes to the brain for decoding, but with hearing loss the brain has a very hard time doing that,” Lin says. Therefore, if the brain is utilizing most of its resources to decode sounds, there may be a negative effect on cognitive functioning.

This study emphasizes the importance of not only treating hearing loss, but vision impairment as well. Dr. Lin and his team hope to eventually research if those who treat their hearing loss with hearing aids are less likely to suffer mental decline and other risk factors associated with hearing loss.

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

Speaking of cognitive decline in older adults, it is important to note that June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Like the study outlined above, there have been multiple research findings that show the correlation between hearing loss and an increased risk in dementia.

If someone you love has been affected or is at risk for Alzheimer’s or other mental decline, there are many ways to get involved and spread awareness. The Alzheimer’s Association offers many options, from wearing purple and using the hashtag #ENDALZ when posting to social media, using the Facebook filter, and sharing your Alzheimer’s story on their website. Take some time at alz.org, and see how you can help to end Alzheimer’s.

How Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center Can Help

Are you worried about your cognitive health? What a better time than Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month to take a hearing test and potentially delay any decline that may come from untreated hearing loss. If you or one of your loved ones have noticed changes in your hearing, reach out to our friendly team today. At Gulf Gate, we offer comprehensive hearing exams and will walk with you every step of the way on your journey to improved hearing.


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