Untreated Hearing Loss May Accelerate Cognitive Decline and Dementia
Evidence suggests that age-related hearing loss, particularly in those over the age of 65, can lead to cognitive decline and dementia if left untreated. Impairments in communication and psychosocial functioning are consequences of hearing loss that are thought to play a role in the cognitive dysfunction it can lead to. Research has demonstrated that hearing loss greater than 25 decibels has been shown to result in cognitive deterioration that is equivalent to seven years of aging (Lin, Ferrucci, Metter et al., 2011). The threshold for major hearing loss is over 20 decibels, which is significant enough to cause deficits in cognition that include memory loss. However, since hearing loss can be treated, the cognitive decline associated with it can be delayed or improved.
Studies have discovered that hearing loss speeds up the rate of cognitive decline. One study found that individuals with hearing loss had between a 30% and 40% accelerated rate of cognitive decline, as well as a 24% risk increase for incident cognitive impairment over a six-year period compared to those without hearing loss. Moreover, it was shown that reduced hearing is independently associated with worse performance on memory and executive dysfunction tests (Lin, Gutierrez, Stone et al., 2004).
Adverse structural brain changes have been observed in those with age-related hearing loss, including the atrophy and shrinkage of certain brain regions. Studies have revealed a connection between hearing loss and reductions of gray matter volume in the auditory cortex. Additionally, a lessening of gray matter volume and thickness has been seen in the prefrontal cortex. One study also discovered decreases in whole brain volume in those with age-related hearing loss, due to the atrophy seen in affected brain regions (Lin, Ferrucci, An et al., 2014).
Treat it Early
In those with hearing loss, the best way to slow or improve any resulting impairments in cognitive function is to seek treatment early. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other treatments that boost hearing ability can be very helpful in mitigating the risks associated with cognitive impairment and decline.
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Devere, R. (2017). The Cognitive and Behavioral Consequences of Hearing Loss, Part 1. Practical Neurology,16(8), 34-38.
Lin FR, Ferrucci L, An Y, et al. Association of hearing impairment with brain volume changes in older adults. Neuroimage. 2014;90:84-92.
Lin FR, Ferucci L, Metter EJ, et al. Hearing loss and cognition in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Neuropsychology. 2011;25:763-770.
Lin MY, Gutierrez PR, Stone KL, et al. Vision impairment and combined vision and hearing impairment predict cognitive and functional decline in older women. J Am. Geriatr Soc. 2004;(52)(12):1996-2002.