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Woman having difficulty concentrating because of hearing loss.

“Mental acuity” is a term that gets frequently thrown around in regards to aging. The majority of health care or psychology experts call it sharpness of the mind in layman’s terms, but there are several aspects that go into the measurement of mental acuity. A person’s mental acuity is affected by several elements such as memory, focus, and the ability to comprehend and understand.

Besides mind altering illnesses like dementia, hearing loss has also been established as a contributing component in mental decline.

The Relationship Between Your Hearing And Dementia

In fact, Johns Hopkins University carried out one study which discovered a relationship between loss of hearing, dementia and a decline in cognitive function. Through a study of 2,000 men and women function between the ages of 75-84 over a six-year period, researchers concluded that individuals who suffered from hearing loss had a 30 to 40 percent faster decline in cognitive function than those who had normal hearing.

Memory and focus were two of the areas highlighted by the study in which researchers observed a reduction in cognitive abilities. And though hearing loss is often considered a normal part of getting older, one Johns Hopkins professor warned against downplaying its importance.

Memory Loss is Not The Only Worry With Impaired Hearing

Not just loss of memory but stress, periods of unhappiness, and depression are also more likely in people with hearing loss according to another study. In addition, that study’s hearing-impaired individuals were more likely to become hospitalized or injured in a fall.

A study of 600 older adults in 2011 concluded that participants who didn’t suffer from loss of hearing were not as likely to develop dementia than those who did have loss of hearing. Additionally, the study discovered a direct correlation between the severity of loss of hearing and the probability of developing a mind-weakening condition. Participants with more extreme loss of hearing were as much as five times more likely to experience symptoms of dementia.

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

A Connection Between Mental Decline And Hearing Loss is Backed by International Research

Published in 2014, a University of Utah study of 4,400 seniors discovered similar findings in that dementia will be developed more often and earlier by people who suffer from loss of hearing than by people with average hearing.

One study in Italy took it a step further and investigated age related hearing loss by examining two different causes. Through the examination of peripheral and central hearing loss, researchers concluded that people with central hearing loss had a higher probability of having a mild cognitive impairment than those who had normal hearing or peripheral hearing loss. People who have central hearing loss, which is caused by an inability to process sound, normally struggle to understand the words they can hear.

In the Italian study, individuals with lower scores on speech comprehension assessments also had poorer scores on cognitive tests involving thought and memory.

Though the cause of the connection between loss of hearing and mental impairment is still not known, researchers are confident in the connection.

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. When talking about that potential cause, the study’s lead researcher highlighted the importance of the brain’s superior temporal gyrus which are ridges on the cerebral cortex that are situated above the ear and are involved in the recognition of spoken words.

The theory suggests that age-related changes in the primary auditory cortex, which functions as a receiver of information prior to processing, along with concurrent alterations to the memory areas of the temporal cortex, could be the beginning of a loss of neurons in the brain.

What to do if You Have Hearing Loss

The Italians believe this kind of mild mental impairment is akin to a pre-clinical stage of dementia. Despite that pre-clinical diagnosis, it’s most definitely something to take seriously. And the number of Americans who could be in danger is staggering.

Two out of every three people over the age of 75 have lost some hearing ability, with considerable hearing loss in 48 million Americans. Even 14 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 64 are affected by hearing loss.

The good news is that there are ways to minimize these dangers with a hearing aid, which can provide a significant improvement in hearing function for many people. This is according to that lead author of the Italian study.
Schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist to see if you need hearing aids.

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