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Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

A term that gets commonly tossed around in context with aging is “mental acuity”. It’s called, by most health care specialistssharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several aspects that play into the measurement of mental acuity. One’s mental acuity is impacted by numerous elements like memory, concentration, and the ability to comprehend and understand.

Mind-altering ailments such as dementia are commonly thought of as the cause of a decrease in mental acuity, but hearing loss has also been consistently associated as another significant contributor to cognitive decline.

The Connection Between Dementia And Your Hearing

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

Memory and focus were two of the functions outlined by the study in which researchers noted a reduction in cognitive capabilities. And although loss of hearing is commonly regarded as a typical part of aging, one Johns Hopkins professor cautioned against downplaying its significance.

Complications Due to Impaired Hearing Besides Memory Loss

In another study, those same researchers found that a case of hearing impairment could not only speed up 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 onset of the study were more likely to develop dementia than those who have normal hearing. Moreover, the study discovered a direct link between the severity of loss of hearing and the likelihood to develop a mind-weakening condition. Symptoms of dementia were as much as five times more probable in people with more severe loss of hearing.

But the work done by researchers at Johns Hopkins is hardly the first to stake a claim for the relationship between hearing loss and a lack of cognitive aptitude.

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

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

One study in Italy went even further and investigated age related hearing loss by studying two separate causes. Individuals with normal hearing loss or peripheral hearing loss were less likely to develop mental impairment than those with central hearing loss. This was concluded after scientists studied both peripheral and central hearing loss. People who have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, generally struggle to understand the words they can hear.

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 connection 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 about 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 which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are found above the ear and play a role in the recognition of spoken words.

The auditory cortex serves as a receiver of information and undergoes changes as we grow 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

A pre-clinical stage of dementia, according to the Italian research, is parallel to a mild form of mental impairment. It should definitely be taken seriously despite the pre-clinical diagnosis. And it’s shocking the number of Us citizens who are at risk.

Out of all people, two of three over the age of 75 have lost some hearing ability, with a total of 48 million Americans suffering what is considered to be considerable hearing loss. Hearing loss even affects 14 percent of those from 45 to 65.

Hearing aids can offer a significant improvement in hearing function mitigating risks for many 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 professional to see if you need hearing aids.

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