If you think of hearing loss as just an inconsequential part of getting older, you’re not alone. The truth is, however, that the condition can strike even the youngest among us — more than one in a thousand babies screened has some form of hearing impairment, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data — and it can trigger other health problems, too.
Take cognitive decline, for example, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Research has long pointed to links between hearing loss and reduced brain functioning over time, but the statistics may surprise you.
Consider these startling findings:
- On average, seniors with hearing loss experience significantly reduced cognitive function 3.2 years before their normal-hearing counterparts.
- Hearing-impaired seniors experience thinking and memory problems 30 to 40 percent faster than their normal-hearing counterparts.
- Older adults with a hearing disability may lose over a cubic centimeter of brain tissue annually beyond normal shrinkage.
- Those with hearing loss are two, three, or nearly five times as likely to develop dementia, depending on the severity of the hearing impairment.
A recent New York Times story pointing to two new large-scale studies, further magnified the burden hearing loss can pose. One of the studies linked untreated hearing impairment in adults 50 and older to significantly increased chances of developing dementia and depression in just five years. The other connected unaddressed hearing loss among older adults to nearly 50 percent higher health care costs and a greater risk of hospitalizations.
So what’s the connection between hearing impairment and cognitive decline? It’s not completely clear how hearing loss, which is also associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, falls, and other common public-health challenges, contributes to development of dementia.
What is clear, however, is the importance of regular hearing checkups to help stave off the threat of cognitive impairment. Tackling risk factors such as hearing loss earlier on could cut dementia cases by a third, according to a research collaborative led by UK psychiatry professor Gill Livingston and involving the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK, and other individuals, institutions, and organizations.
As one of your most crucial senses for communication and perception, hearing not only helps you stay connected to the world but helps keep your brain sharp. Give your hearing health and overall wellness a hand by staying active, eating a diet rich in important nutrients, avoiding excess noise, and scheduling regular hearing checkups.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hearing Loss in Children. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/hearingloss/data.html. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Accelerates Brain Function Decline in Older Adults. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_accelerates_brain_function_decline_in_older_adults. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
- The JAMA Network | JAMA Neurology. Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/802291. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
- Healthy Hearing. Foods That Boost Hearing: Be Mindful of Your Minerals. https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/51181-Boost-your-hearing-with-these-power-foods. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. A Prospective Study of Vitamin Intake and the Risk of Hearing Loss in Men. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2853884/. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. Free Radical Scavengers Vitamins A, C, and E Plus Magnesium Reduce Noise Trauma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1950331/. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. The Role of Zinc in the Treatment of Tinnitus. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12544035. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.