There are nearly six million people between the ages of 18 and 44 in the United States who are experiencing hearing loss. It is commonly understood that hearing loss only affects one thing: a person’s ability to hear. Scientists have spent a lot of time, energy, and resources documenting the other effects hearing loss has on a person’s entire wellbeing. In fact, our abilities to hear are completely wrapped up with our abilities to sense our surroundings and our abilities to communicate with the people we are surrounded by.
When you begin to experience hearing loss, you can find it more difficult to connect with the world in ways you may have previously experienced. So, while hearing loss of course affects your abilities to literally hear the people and environments you come in contact with, it also affects your abilities to feel connected to them. There is plenty of research being conducted right now that shows that people who are experiencing hearing loss are subsequently frequently at risk for a range of cognitive ailments.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Abilities
There are several reasons that the researchers think that there is a relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline. One of the primary reasons they have found is that hearing loss changes how the brain functions. When you are experiencing hearing loss, the part of your brain that processes auditory information can become strained and diminish. Your brain steps in to do a lot of work in order to compensate for this loss. When this happens, the areas of your brain that are dedicated to senses such as body orientation and to memory are reorganized and oftentimes diminished. The effects of this can be physical: untreated hearing loss is related to a higher risk of falls and accidents, especially for older people. Other effects can be cognitive—and devastating.
People with untreated hearing loss can suffer from depression and anxiety, as well as more severe cognitive issues such as Alzheimer’s disease. Untreated hearing loss is related to mental health struggles with depression and anxiety. When you can’t hear the complexity of your surroundings—when it is difficult to track and participate in conversations, when you can’t hear your television, when you miss announcements at work or on public transportation—you can feel very disconnected from the places you live in, work at, and frequent every day. This can lead you to feeling increasingly disconnected from your friends, loved ones, and coworkers. Untreated hearing loss frequently eventually leads to people wanting to stay away from public spaces where hearing and communication feel almost impossible. This receding from public life leads to isolation, and the depression and anxiety that can follow can feel almost insurmountable.
A Link between Hearing Loss and Dementia
There are other more serious cognitive issues that are associated with untreated hearing loss. Researchers at Johns Hopkins who published their work in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people with hearing loss experience declines in thinking skills more quickly than people who are not experiencing hearing loss. A different study conducted at Johns Hopkins in 2011 tracked almost 2,000 older people around the age of 77 years old for between 12 and 18 years, and they found that that “people with hearing loss were 24% more likely to have Alzheimer’s.” They write later in their study that “the worse the hearing loss was, the more likely the person was to develop dementia.” Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia that people experience. It is degenerative brain disease affects people’s memories, and it is especially difficult for people with Alzheimer’s to remember information that they have relatively recently learned.
There are many things that people experiencing hearing loss can do to protect against cognitive decline. The first thing is to simply treat your hearing loss by consulting our team at Focus Hearing for a hearing test and to then understand your hearing needs. This might include getting hearing aids, which will amplify certain sounds that will make it easier for you to distinguish unique sounds in crowded sound environments.
Building upon this, you can take steps to better communicate with friends and loved ones, especially regarding your hearing needs. With the support of a hearing health professional and your community, you will surely be able to tackle larger and more daunting cognitive issues such as Alzheimer’s, should they arise.
To learn more, contact us at Focus Hearing today.