April 5, 2020 - Sunday

Cognitive Decline and Untreated Hearing Loss Is There a Link?

Submitted by Dana Luzon, Au.D. CCC-A, FAAA Written by Sharon Macner, Au.D., www.cvaudiology.com

As a Doctor of Audiology with years of experience, I have an interest in the effects that hearing loss has on one’s ability to effectively communicate with family, friends, and co-workers. But what I find even more intriguing is why a person chooses to live with hearing difficulties rather than seek treatment . Currently only 3 in 10 persons seeks treatment for their hearing loss, and even more astonishing is the fact that it takes the average person with hearing loss 7 years to seek that treatment!

What is that trigger that causes a person to finally take action? Common responses go like this: “It [my hearing] finally got so bad…It came to a point where I just couldn’t understand conversation. I have to do something about it.” Or, “I finally missed something really important because I didn’t hear it. The time has come to do something.” Additionally, I’ve had wives reporting: “I can’t take it anymore. He stands there in a group conversation and doesn’t participate. He doesn’t say anything… he doesn’t know what it being said to him. He misses what our friends are saying to him, or he just nods his head. I’m embarrassed.”

I am aware of the top two reasons why a person chooses to ignore their hearing problem. Reason #1: My hearing isn’t bad enough. Reason #2: I can get along without hearing instruments. We audiologists used to say, “When you are ready, then it is time to get a hearing aid.” Today, the research is clarifying why one should seek amplification for hearing loss much earlier than previously recommended. Here is a summary of studies which identify cognitive decline with untreated hearing loss. “Untreated” means not correcting the hearing deficit, either medically or with the use of a hearing aid.

In 2011 Johns Hopkins University published a study in the Archives of Neurology which demonstrated the direct correlation between the participants’ degree of hearing loss and their risk of later developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Their conclusions were fascinating, and not surprising.
• For each 10 decibel loss of hearing, the partici-
pant’s risk of dementia rose about 20 percent;
• Participants with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were significantly more likely to develop dementia by the end.
• Seniors with hearing loss were significantly more likely to develop dementia over time.

The authors conclude that the increased incidence of dementia in the hearing impaired subjects is possibly due to the strain of deciding sounds over the years which may overwhelm the brain.

Also, in 2011 researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience on the effects of hearing loss on speech comprehension. Their findings were not surprising:
• Those with untreated hearing loss had less brain activity when listening to complex sentences; and,
• Those subjects also had less grey matter in the auditory cortex, suggesting that in certain parts of the brain related to the understanding of speech, atrophy may occur more rapidly when hearing diminishes.

This study makes a strong case for hearing technology, though the decreased speech comprehension ability is likely result from a “convergence” of things happening in the brain of the hearing impaired person, including the effects of decreased social interactions of the hearing impaired person.

“Is there anything I can do to prevent hearing loss?” “Yes!” While the influence of genetics can’t be controlled, one can control some of the variables which cause hearing loss. Let’s start with excessive noise exposure. Noise induced hearing loss is common. I see patients daily who live with noise induced hearing loss. Some of these patients have grown older and wiser and now recognize the importance of using hearing protection, others have not. Exposure to loud sounds at any age will irreversibly damage your hearing. Examples of dangerous noise sources include farming or heavy equipment, firearms, mowers, snow blowers, construction equipment, chainsaws, and, even the heavy duty wet/dry vac. When using these items, use hearing protection… always. Hearing protection comes in a variety of forms, and it doesn’t matter which form you use, rather that you use some form of hearing protection, be it foam plugs, muffs, or custom earplugs. Hunters do well with shooting plugs designed especially for the sport.

Seek help for your hearing loss sooner rather than late, when the hearing loss is only “mildly” impaired. Protect your hearing from damaging noise sources. Take action to improve your cardiovascular health. Eat a healthy diet. Take steps other than early treatment of hearing loss to reduce your risk of dementia, including reducing chronic stress, anxiety and depression. Continually engage in new challenging tasks. Talk with an audiologist about hearing treatment options. Remember, untreated hearing loss affects more than just the affected individual.

Audiology & Hearing Aids

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