To Hear or Not to Hear, Wait, What Was the Question?

As we age, it’s normal to experience some decline in certain areas of overall health. While some people fear a decline in mobility, others feel that losing their memory could be the worst outcome. Decreased brain function is a normal occurrence in older adults, just like hearing loss.

As we age, we lose brain tissue, which effectively shrinks the brain. This can lead to lessened cognitive functions. When our older generation starts noticing a decline in their hearing, it seldom makes people think that they may also suffer from a decline in brain function.

Thanks to recent studies, medical professionals are now seeing a link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline. For many, the loss of their cognitive abilities is a slow process. With the goal of tracking different health issues in thousands of patients, both men and women, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging was able to discover this link in test patients over a 10 year course with magnetic resonance testing (MRI).

Of the 126 participants, all of whom were given a complete physical as well as a hearing test at the onset of the study, 75 of them had normal hearing for their age. The other 51 participants had some form of hearing impairment with a minimum loss of 25 decibels. Years later, upon analysis of the results, Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., was able to determine that the participants with predetermined hearing loss showed signs of advanced atrophy of the brain while those with normal hearing did not.

Dr. Lin determined that these patients had a decline of brain tissue that was significantly more than the test group with no initial hearing loss. Additional shrinkage in other speech and sound supporting areas of the brain was documented.

The lack of sound stimulation in patients with hearing loss causes detrimental effects on their cognitive abilities over time. Without normal hearing, their brain is unable to process sounds or speech, which leads to an inability of the memory to function correctly, as well as not fulfilling the bodies needs for sensory consolidation.

This scenario leads to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in addition to the cognitive impairment. For many older adults living with the loneliness brought on by social isolation as well as hearing loss, the brain becomes starved for stimulation. Poor hearing can be a reason for the brain to expend much of its energy on tasks like trying to think of something specific or remembering an event.

Thanks to research, doctors have learned that hearing loss among older patients is an issue that may offer more than the obvious results. It’s important that anyone living with hearing loss seek treatment, but it’s dually important that older adults are informed of the options available.

Sometimes it’s fear of the unknown that drives them away from hearing devices, other times it’s an inability to understand how to manage the device. When helping someone to understand what is available, it’s a good idea to seek the advice of a knowledgeable audiologist to help your family through this transition.

Adapting to a hearing device doesn’t have to be scary. As long as the situations and possible outcomes are explained reasonably, many people would rather choose to try out a hearing device than to suffer a slow decline in their cognitive state.

If you or someone you love is living with hearing loss, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with an audiologist to see how they can help. It could add years to the time you’re able to spend with your loved ones.


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