Recent Study Shows That Mild Hearing Loss Can Lead To Cognitive Decline
Recent research has shown that adults who develop age-related hearing loss also have a higher chance of cognitive decline.
A study from a group of researchers at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has revealed that even during the early stages of hearing loss a link to cognitive decline can be seen. Although the early stages of hearing loss are generally considered to be normal, the link to cognitive decline is still present.
What is the link between hearing loss and cognitive impairment?
Hearing loss is one of the most common health problems in relation to aging. It affects over two-thirds of people who are over the age of 70, but only a small portion of these are tested for hearing loss each year, and fewer again are properly treated.
In the United States, only 14% of adults who suffer from hearing loss receive the standard treatment for their hearing loss - which is usually having hearing aids fitted.
Studies show that people who have an age-related hearing problem are more likely to develop impaired cognitive function, so the deterioration of the ability to hear may be the trigger for cognitive decline.
These studies, however, have only examined those who have been medically diagnosed with hearing loss. This is defined as somebody who is unable to hear or pick up sounds under 25 decibels (dB).
Justin S. Golub, a hearing specialist at Columbia University, Irving Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital is quoted in the ScienceDaily, that "Physicians in this field have used 25 dB -- about the loudness of a whisper -- to define the border between normal hearing and mild hearing loss in adults, but this level is arbitrary."
He also explains that "It has been assumed that cognitive impairment wouldn't begin until people passed this threshold. But no one actually looked at whether this was true."
Does this mean that hearing loss is a cause for concern?
Researchers looked at the data taken from 6,451 adults who were all around the age of 59. They were enrolled in two ethnically-varied epidemiologic studies before being led through both hearing and cognitive tests.
It was found that for every 10 dB decrease in hearing, there was also a significant decrease in the subject’s cognitive ability. This was a pattern that was visible across all groups and across the spectrum of hearing.
To the researcher’s surprise, the largest decrease in cognitive ability was seen in those whose hearing was only beginning to become impaired.
Golub says to ScienceDaily that "most people with hearing loss believe they can go about their lives just fine without treatment, and maybe some can, but hearing loss is not benign. It has been linked to social isolation, depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Hearing loss should be treated. This study suggests the earlier, the better."
Can hearing aids prevent the loss of cognitive abilities?
The researchers noted that their current study did not address whether cognitive impairment is caused by hearing loss, but rather that the decline in both the performance of cognitive abilities and hearing are related. It is possible to assume the deterioration of both hearing and cognitive performance is just caused by aging and this is why it happens at a similar time.
"But it's also possible that people who don't hear well tend to socialize less and, as a result, they have fewer stimulating conversations. Over many years, this could have a negative impact on cognition," Golub tells ScienceDaily. "If that's the case, preventing or treating hearing loss could reduce dementia incidence - by more than 9%, according to a recent analysis published in The Lancet."
There is a new study, which is funded by the National Institute of Health, that is looking into the possibility that hearing aids will be able to slow cognitive decline in older people with age-related hearing loss. They are currently testing this possibility, so the results are yet to be released.
There will need to be more studies conducted in this field to be sure of whether or not hearing aids can prevent the loss of cognitive abilities, but one thing’s for sure - if you’re noticing that hearing is requiring more effort, it is time to have your hearing checked.
You can schedule a diagnostic hearing test today by calling (916) 646-2471.
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