Research has confirmed what many audiologists and physicians have long feared: there is an irrefutable link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Initial problems such as memory loss and an inability to concentrate can worsen over time. Left untreated, this may eventually lead to dementia and other forms of severe cognitive impairment.
A University of Oxford study published in 2021 tracked 82,000 adults aged 60 and up for 11 years. Participants were asked at the beginning of the study to identify spoken numbers against a background of white noise. Based on this test, researchers placed them into normal, insufficient and poor speech-in-noise hearing groups. After 11 years, the evidence showed that insufficient and poor speech-in-noise hearing was associated with a 61% and 91% increased risk of developing dementia, compared to normal speech-in-noise hearing, respectively. In addition, a study published in 2019 concluded that persons with even mild hearing loss between 15 and 20 dB—a measurement considered “good but not perfect” hearing by many physicians—experienced “clinically significant” levels of cognitive decline. These figures are striking and hard to refute.
Correlation Between Hearing Loss & Dementia
Though the reason for the correlation isn’t completely understood, several theories exist. It may be that the increased cognitive load the brain experiences when trying to hear properly taxes the resources that would otherwise be available for memory and concentration. Alternatively, a decrease in the brain’s “gray matter” may lead to a shrinkage in brain cells and a resulting inability to process sound. Another factor may be the social isolation many individuals with hearing loss experience; this lack of socialization has been shown to accelerate cognitive decline and dementia.
Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: hearing aids can help. Studies show that patients who treat their hearing loss with hearing devices reduce their odds of cognitive decline and, at the very least, delay the onset of dementia. Early detection is key! If you are experiencing hearing loss, it’s best to seek treatment as soon as possible in order to avoid mental deterioration. Even if you are unaware of a problem, schedule a hearing evaluation in order to make sure. Because symptoms develop slowly, many patients adjust to gradual changes in hearing without realizing there is anything wrong.
Call Advanced Audiology & Hearing Aids at (318) 251-1572 for more information or to schedule an appointment.