Say What? Untreated Hearing Loss More Dangerous Than Just Being Deaf
February 15th, 2016 by NHI
Age-related hearing loss — technically called presbycusis — affects about one-third of adults aged 65 to 74, and more than half of people 75 and older.
The condition is more than just an embarrassment for the afflicted and a frustration for loved ones …
Studies show it could be a direct cause of devastating cognitive decline and dementia.
Thankfully, studies also show there’s hope — and that taking action to treat hearing loss can make a real difference. Read on to discover what you can do to improve your quality of life and prevent damage to your brain. . .
Hearing Loss Speeds Cognitive Decline
Numerous studies have shown a direct relationship between untreated hearing loss and faster rates of cognitive decline.
In a 2011 study, Dr. Frank Lin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University found older adults with mild, moderate and severe hearing loss were (respectively) twice, three times and five times as likely to develop dementia than the group with no hearing loss.1
A follow-up study published in 2013 confirmed the correlation between hearing loss and accelerated cognitive decline in older adults in their late seventies. The researchers found people with hearing loss had a 24% greater risk of cognitive impairment than those without.2
In both studies, the findings held true regardless of age, sex, race, education, smoking, diabetes and hypertension.
Hearing Loss Contributes to Shrinking Brain
Regular readers of this newsletter know that the brain physically shrinks with age, and that this brain loss is associated with loss of memory and cognitive ability.
So it’s of keen interest to learn in another study by Dr. Lin’s team that hearing loss directly affects brain volume.
Over a six-year time span, the team used MRI scans to analyze brain volume changes in participants with normal hearing and in those with impaired hearing.
They found the people with trouble hearing had lost an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue compared to those with normal hearing.3
The overall brain volume had decreased, but what was particularly interesting was that the right temporal lobe lost significant volume. This region contains multiple layers of the temporal gyri, which are responsible for processing sound and speech.
The temporal gyri are also associated with memory and sensory integration, and have been shown to be affected by cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.4
The reason for the tissue loss is clear as a bell:
Use it or lose it.
If you can’t hear, the areas of your brain required to process audio and store it as memory are essentially starved and wither from lack of use, causing physical neurodegeneration.
Hearing Aids and Nutrition Can Help
Despite common belief, age-related hearing loss is not a lifelong sentence to deafness and saying, “Huh?”
Supplements such as magnesium5, B12 and folate6 have been shown to improve hearing. Other studies suggest selenium, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), copper and zinc can all help improve hearing loss.
Besides nutrition, wearing a hearing aid can make a significant difference in both quality of life and maintaining brain volume. If you can hear and engage in conversation – or even hear TV and music — the areas of your brain responsible for processing speech get a workout instead of atrophying.
A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found people with hearing loss who used a hearing aid showed no difference in cognitive decline than folks in the normal hearing group.7
A hearing aid doesn’t just keep the brains of individuals with hearing loss healthy. A National Council on the Aging (NCOA) survey showed people with hearing impairment who started using a hearing aid reported significant improvements in relations with loved ones, greater self-confidence, improved mental health and other benefits besides.8
I’m not surprised!
If you’ve been experiencing even gradual symptoms of hearing loss, do your brain a favor and have an audiologist check it out. Ditto for loved ones who don’t hear as well as they used to. Then take whatever measures are necessary to attend to it before it’s too late.
Diminished hearing doesn’t have to mean diminished quality of life … much less actual loss of brain tissue!