Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline: What’s the Connection?

Mar 29, 2024

Globally, millions of people face some form of hearing impairment. As more attention is paid to the impacts hearing loss can have on people, recent studies have revealed a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline (difficulties with brain functions like thinking and remembering), especially among older adults.

Hearing loss has traditionally been viewed solely as an ear-related issue. However, new research suggests a strong connection to declining cognitive health. Researchers believe that the two most likely explanations would be:

  1. Insufficient sound input due to hearing loss might alter the brain’s structure, impacting how it functions over time.
  2. Cardiovascular disease or inflammation might simultaneously influence both cognitive decline and hearing loss.

Addressing hearing loss promptly goes beyond simply enhancing one’s ability to perceive the world around them. It could potentially slow cognitive decline and promote better brain health. Let’s delve deeper to understand how these conditions might influence each other and impact a person’s overall health.

Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss affects many people beyond just missing conversations or needing repetition. It’s a widespread issue, with the CDC reporting around 15% of adults within the US suffer from some form of hearing trouble. Their causes can range from noise exposure to natural aging, varying among individuals. Some may be born with hearing loss, while others develop these problems later in life. 

Regardless of the cause, hearing loss creates daily challenges. Understanding how widespread and diverse contributing factors are is key to raising awareness about hearing loss and providing the proper support to avoid cognitive decline.

Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can take several different forms, each with its own distinct causes and treatment implications. The most commonly diagnosed types are sensorineural (damage within the inner ear or the nerve connecting the ear to the brain), conductive (issues within the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear bones), and mixed (a combination of conductive and sensorineural).

Exploring Cognitive Decline

Much like hearing loss, cognitive decline — the slow loss of mental ability affecting memory and thinking — can sneak up on people quietly. Over time, these symptoms can begin to impact a person’s quality of life in many ways which can be very frustrating for those affected. 

Similarly, it’s also important to be vigilant for any early symptoms of cognitive decline. These can include things like memory loss, difficulty concentrating, struggling with planning or organizing, and experiencing confusion regarding time or place. Recognizing these signs early can give people their best chance at seeking treatment or making adjustments that help them maintain their independence and agency for as long as possible.

The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Recent peer-reviewed sources show a surprising link: people with hearing loss are much more likely to have cognitive decline compared to those with normal hearing. And, while there are many ways these maladies can affect a person’s life, from the hard work of trying to hear sounds more clearly to the loneliness of social isolation, it’s become clear that this shared connection can cause irreparable strain on the brain over time.

Prevention and Management

The good news is that there are things everyone can do to protect their hearing and, therefore, their brain health, and small steps can make a substantial difference. 

Using earplugs at loud events, maintaining moderate volume levels on music and the television, and scheduling regular hearing tests are simple but effective actions that can help protect your ears and cognitive abilities as you age. Being proactive in caring for your hearing may also lower your risk of cognitive decline later in life, making your hearing health a priority that pays off for your overall well-being.

Cognivue®: A Revolutionary Approach

Cognivue has emerged as an important tool for assessing brain function. It provides an advanced way to explore the link between hearing loss and cognitive health. At Associated Hearing, we use this technology to evaluate abilities like memory, attention, and processing speed. Bringing Cognivue into clinical practice is a big step in diagnosing and understanding how hearing impacts cognitive decline.

Cognivue allows deeper insight into these connected areas of health. With this tool, we provide a foundation for developing better treatment strategies that address both hearing and cognitive issues together. With Cognivue, we can create more effective approaches for improving overall brain health.

The Importance of Early Intervention

The key to maintaining hearing and brain health is early detection and treatment. Tools like Cognivue, which is one of several tools utilized by Associated Hearing, can be extremely helpful in this regard. With these tools, we are able to provide a clear understanding of your current health status and the best way to move forward.

Recent research also highlights the cognitive benefits of addressing hearing impairments in an aging population. The ACHIEVE study found that for those at an elevated risk of cognitive decline, implementing hearing solutions (specifically hearing aids) significantly decelerated their mental deterioration; by as much as 48% across three years. If you’re experiencing hearing loss, hearing aids are a really strong option to decrease the likelihood of developing cognitive issues once the loss is diagnosed.

Catching any hearing or cognitive issues early is crucial; the sooner you know your risks, the sooner you can take steps to protect your long-term health and well-being.

The connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline is clear. But with the right plan, including early treatment with hearing aids and the use of advanced tools like Cognivue, it’s a challenge we can confront directly. We don’t have to wait until it’s too late to do something; we can take action now to protect our brains for the future. 

Ready to take the next step? Schedule an appointment today for a comprehensive hearing assessment. Let us help you keep the music playing and your stories flowing, loud and clear.