Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

“Mental acuity” is a phrase that gets regularly thrown around in regards to getting older. Most health care or psychology experts call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are a few factors that play into the measurement of mental acuity. One’s mental acuity is influenced by numerous factors such as memory, focus, and the ability to comprehend and understand.

Mind-altering ailments like dementia are usually regarded as the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently linked as another significant factor in cognitive decline.

The Link Between Your Hearing And Dementia

In fact, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University found a link between dementia, a reduction in cognitive ability, and loss of hearing. Through a study of 2,000 men and women age 75-84 over a six-year span, researchers concluded that individuals who had hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent faster decrease in mental function than those with normal hearing.

Memory and focus were two of the functions outlined by the study in which researchers observed a reduction in cognitive abilities. One Johns Hopkins professor advised against downplaying the importance of loss of hearing just because it’s regarded as a typical part of getting older.

Problems From Impaired Hearing Besides Loss of Memory

In a different study, those same researchers found that a case of impaired hearing could not only accelerate the process of mental decline, but is more likely to result in stress, depression or periods of sadness. Hospitalization and injury from a fall were also found to be more likely in this study’s participants.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t have hearing loss were less likely to develop dementia than individuals who did have loss of hearing. Moreover, the study found a direct correlation between the severity of hearing loss and the likelihood to develop a mind-weakening condition. People with more severe hearing loss were as much as five times more likely to suffer symptoms of dementia.

But the work carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins is scarcely the first to stake a claim for the connection between loss of hearing and a lack of cognitive aptitude.

International Research Backs up a Correlation Between Hearing Loss And Mental Decline

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that individuals with hearing loss developed dementia more frequently and sooner than those with normal hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further and investigated age related hearing loss by examining two separate causes. Through the examination of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers determined that participants with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive impairment than those with average hearing or peripheral hearing loss. Generally, people struggle to understand words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

Scores on cognitive tests involving memory and thought were lower in those people who also had low scores in speech and comprehension, according to the Italian study.

Though researchers were confident in the relationship between hearing loss and mental impairments, the cause responsible for correlation is still unknown.

How Can Hearing Loss Affect Mental Acuity?

However, researchers involved with the study in Italy do have a theory that revolves around the brain’s temporal cortex. In speaking on that potential cause, the study’s lead author highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are positioned above the ear and are involved in the recognition of spoken words.

The auditory cortex functions as a receiver of information and undergoes changes as we get older along with the memory areas of the temporal cortex which may be a conduit to a loss of neurons in the brain.

What to do if You Have Loss of Hearing

The Italians believe this form of mild mental impairment is related to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. It should definitely be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Us citizens who could be in danger is staggering.

Two out of every three people have lost some hearing ability if they are older than 75, with significant loss of hearing in 48 million Americans. Loss of hearing even impacts 14 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 64.

Hearing aids can provide a considerable improvement in hearing function decreasing risks for many people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian research.
To see if you need hearing aids schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional.

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