While hearing loss often presents a host of emotional complications, such as feelings of frustration, helplessness and missing out, more and more research is showing that hearing loss is tied to a number of additional health conditions. Recent research from Johns Hopkins drew a connection between varying levels of hearing impairment and diminished mental health, such as difficulty walking and dementia, which is characterized by general brain function loss, resulting in forgetfulness, impaired thinking and fluctuations in mood or personality.
In a 2014 Johns Hopkins study, performed by Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues, 639 adults were tracked and analyzed for almost 12 years. Brain scans of these participants over the duration of the study showed that brain atrophy, or degeneration, was occurring at a faster rate in those with hearing loss than those without. The conclusion of the study revealed the following:
- Individuals with mild hearing loss were two times as likely to be affected by dementia.
- Individuals with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to be affected by dementia.
- Individuals with severe hearing loss were five times as likely to be affected by dementia.
Why Does Hearing Loss Contribute to Mental Deterioration?
While the exact connection between hearing loss and memory function is not known with certainty, many medical practitioners believe that social isolation may play a role. Individuals with hearing loss tend to disconnect and withdraw from their social world, thus missing out on conversations and everyday interactions that stimulate the brain. Without the frequent mental stimulation of socializing, the brain may begin to undergo atrophy.
Additionally, the brain must work harder to process surrounding sounds and signals to compensate for hearing loss. This increased level of exertion and mental multitasking is thought to interfere with the neural connections needed to walk and move around.
Reducing the Risk of Hearing-Loss-Caused Memory Impairments
Data shows that even though millions of Americans have some degree of hearing loss, only one out of seven uses a hearing aid, and that, on average, hearing aid users wait 10 years before seeking audiological assistance. Despite a number of common misconceptions, modern hearing aids and cochlear implants are now very inconspicuous, affordable and highly effective in combating hearing loss. If you or someone you love is exhibiting signs of hearing impairment, speak with your audiologist today and see if a hearing aid or other services are right for you.