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Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets regularly tossed around in context with getting older is “mental acuity”. Most health care or psychology specialists call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several factors that go into the measurement of mental acuity. Memory, focus and the ability to comprehend or understand are just some of the areas that can contribute to a person’s mental acuity.

Mind-altering illnesses such as dementia are usually considered the culprit for a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently linked as another significant contributor to mental decline.

Between Dementia And Your Hearing What is The Link?

In fact, research conducted by Johns Hopkins University uncovered a relationship between hearing loss, dementia and a loss in cognitive ability. Through a study of 2,000 people age 75-84 over a six-year period, researchers concluded that participants who suffered from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent quicker decrease in mental function than those with normal hearing.

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

Memory Loss is Not The Only Concern With Impaired Hearing

In another study, those same researchers discovered that a case of hearing impairment could not only accelerate the process of mental decline, but is more likely to lead to 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 suffered from loss of hearing at the beginning of the study were more likely to experience dementia than people with healthy hearing. Additionally, the study found a direct correlation between the severity of loss of hearing and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more likely in individuals with more extreme hearing loss.

And other studies internationally, besides this Johns Hopkins study, have also drawn attention to the loss of cognitive aptitude and hearing loss.

A Correlation Between Mental Decline And Hearing Loss is Backed by International Research

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

One study in Italy took it a step further by examining two separate causes of age-related hearing loss. Individuals with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were not as likely to have mental disability than those with central hearing loss. This was determined after researchers studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. Typically, people struggle to understand words they hear if they have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound.

In the Italian study, participants with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had lower scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Although the cause of the connection between loss of hearing and mental impairment is still not known, researchers are confident in the connection.

The Way Loss of Hearing Can Impact 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 emphasized the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus located above the ear, these ridges on the cerebral cortex are involved in comprehension of speech and words.

The theory indicates that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which functions as a receiver of information prior to processing, along with associated modifications to the memory parts of the temporal cortex, could be the beginning of a loss of neurons in the brain.

What to do if You Have Hearing Loss

A pre-clinical stage of dementia, according to the Italian research, is related to a mild form of mental impairment. It should certainly be taken seriously in spite of the pre-clinical diagnosis. And the number of Us citizens who might be at risk is staggering.

Two out of every three people over the age of 75 have lost some ability to hear, with significant hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Loss of hearing even impacts 14 percent of those from 45 to 65.

Hearing aids can offer a significant improvement in hearing function decreasing dangers for most people and that’s the good news. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Make an appointment with a hearing care specialist to see if you need hearing aids.

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