Hearing Loss and Brain Loss
Age related hearing loss (presbycusis) affects 1 out of 3 people over the age of 60 and nearly half of those over 75. Hearing loss joins heart disease and diabetes as one of the top three public health concerns for older Americans. Medical researchers have been studying the connection between hearing loss and brain loss (cognitive decline) as people age.
At Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, Dr. Frank Lin and his team of researchers have conducted several long-term research studies evaluating the relationship of hearing loss and cognitive decline. In his most recently published study, participants aged 75-84 were tracked over a six-year period. All participants started the study with normal brain function. During the study period, participants with hearing loss however showed cognitive decline 30-40% faster than those with normal hearing.
"Our results show that hearing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, because it may come with some serious long-term consequences to healthy brain functioning," according to Dr. Frank Lin, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
At the University of Colorado, Anu Sharma concluded through EEG brain scans that the part of the brain dedicated to processing hearing can get reassigned to other tasks such as processing vision and touch when hearing loss is present. This was apparent in cases of mild hearing loss as well. The reassigned functioning could play a role in cognitive decline among older adults.
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have a higher incidence of hearing loss. While researchers don’t know conclusively if cognitive decline is caused by hearing loss or the cognitive decline causes the hearing loss; the two appear to be strongly connected.
People can be proactive by having their hearing tested annually starting at the age of 55 and treat any hearing loss if detected. By engaging the brain through better hearing one can potentially delay the slow down of healthy brain function. Call us today to schedule an appointment for a thorough hearing evaluation by one of our audiologists.