Aging is an inevitable part of life. Despite a loss in physical capabilities or vitality, aging has its silver linings. For many, with age comes better perspective, wisdom, and a more relaxed pace of life.
However, just as maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly help maintain quality of life, doctors increasingly recognize the importance of hearing health during the aging process. Read on to learn more about the importance of good hearing for cognitive function.
The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
Hearing difficulties occur in around one in three people aged between 65 and 75 and nearly 50% of people 75 and older. This makes it one of the most prevalent conditions among older adults. Research funded by the National Institute on Aging suggested that hearing loss could affect cognition and increase the risk of dementia in older adults.
A recent study concluded that cognitive functions, such as memory and concentration, decreased at a faster rate in older adults with hearing loss. This was compared to older adults with normal hearing. The effects of hearing loss on auditory processing, speech and mental wellbeing have been studied for many years. But the negative impact of hearing loss and cognition has only really come to the surface in more recent years, leading to this being studied in more detail.
“Hearing difficulties occur in around one in three people aged between 65 and 75 and nearly 50% of people 75 and older.”
– The National Institute on Aging.
Cognitive Consequences of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss greater than 25 decibels has an impact on cognitive decline, comparable to seven years of aging.
Findings from another study presented results that stated individuals with hearing loss developed cognitive decline between 30% and 40% quicker compared to normal hearing. Similarly, there was a 24% increase in risk for incident cognitive impairment during a period of 6 years.
According to John Hopkins expert Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., there is a significant link between hearing and cognitive function:
“Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain. Hearing loss also contributed to social isolation. You may not want to be with people as much, and when you are you may not engage in conversation as much. These factors may contribute to dementia.”
Not being able to hear efficiently also makes your brain work harder just to process sound. Furthermore, this subconscious multi-tasking also interfered with mental processing needed to walk safely.
The Importance of Pro-Active Choices
Many studies have found an association between untreated hearing loss and different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. If you are having trouble understanding speech, or find it tiring to have simple conversations, don’t assume you are suffering from dementia. Hearing loss features similar symptoms to cognitive impairment, so it is necessary to have regular hearing assessments.
If you do have diagnosed hearing loss, it is important to know you are at the higher risk of developing dementia. Taking preventative steps is vital to trying to maintain your cognitive function. These include healthy lifestyle choices, wearing hearing aids, taking recommended medications and staying socially engaged.
Hearing aids and assisted hearing devices are another way that can help to mitigate decline in cognitive function. Products such as IQbuds² MAX personalize your hearing experience by augmenting sound, enabling the ability to reduce background noise and customize location controls. All while still being able to listen to your podcast or music.
Why a Hearing Device may Improve Brain Function
Recent research conducted by the University of Melbourne revealed new benefits to wearing a hearing aid or assisted hearing device. Chief among these was the potential delay of cognitive decline in older adults. Participants were assessed on a variety of aspects including:
- cognitive function
- speech perception
- quality of life
Researchers recorded their responses before and then 18 months after the fitting of new hearing aids. Researchers found that speech perception, self-diagnosed listening difficulties and quality of life all significantly improved for each participant.
“Most notably, 97.3% of participants in this in this study showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function.” – Hearing aids may delay cognitive decline, Science Daily
This is the mental ability to plan, organize information and commence tasks. Women, especially, showed significant advancements in their working memory, which is used for reasoning and making decisions.
The majority of other cognitive functions assessed showed improvement as well. The research also concluded the more the hearing aids were worn, the greater the improvements in cognitive function. Also, women were much more consistent with wearing the devices than men.
University of Melbourne Associate Professor, Julia Sarant, stated that improvement in cognitive function is something that is not commonly seen in older people:
“Although there are successful treatments for haring loss, there is currently no successful treatment for cognitive decline or dementia.”