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Research Finds There Is A Strong Connection Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Cognitive Decline

Cognitive decline is on the rise as the population lives longer. While a great deal of research has been done focusing on the brain, not as much emphasis has been placed on the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline. However, some researchers are beginning to investigate the potential link and are discovering that there is a substantial connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss.

Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline Study Parameters

In a multi-year study, Dr. Frank R. Lin and his associate researchers tracked hearing loss in senior adults, with an average age of 77.4 among participants. With the study starting in 1997-98, none of the study’s participants had any signs of cognitive decline.

To create a wider pool of information to draw on, the researchers enrolled 3,075 adults. In the fifth year of the study (2001-02), all the participants were tested for hearing loss and cognitive impairment. After eliminating the participants who did have cognitive decline, 1,984 remained and underwent a pure-tone hearing test.

Pure-tone testing is just part of what a doctor of audiology will test for during a thorough hearing evaluation. However, by testing pure-one perception in a sound-controlled booth, the researchers were able to establish enough of a baseline for their study’s purposes.

To help you understand how the researchers used pure-tone testing to establish a hearing baseline, consult the table below.

Degree Of Hearing Loss Hearing Loss Range (dB)
Normal  -10 to 15
Slight 16 to 25
Mild 26 to 40
Moderate 41 to 55
Moderately severe 56 to 70
Severe 71 to 90
Profound 90+

Participants in the study were defined to have hearing loss if their pure-tone test showed that they had greater than 25 dB loss of sound range.

For the cognitive decline testing, the researchers used 3MS and the Digit Symbol Substitution (DSS) tests, which tested for concentration, praxis, psychomotor speed, language, executive function, orientation, and memory. The max score for this test was 100 and scores below 80 were defined as the cognitive impairment threshold.

Confirmed Connection Between Hearing Loss And Cognitive Impairment

Using their testing parameters, Dr. Lin and the other researchers tested the participants at the Year 5, 8, 10, and 11 marks. Throughout their study period, the researchers were able to track a definite link between cognitive decline and hearing loss.

Participants whom they defined as having hearing loss had a 30%-40% faster rate of developing cognitive impairment. The researchers were able to determine from this data that those with hearing loss had a 24% greater risk of developing cognitive impairment over a 6-year period when compared with those with normal hearing.

The study determined that those with hearing loss generally would require 7.7 years to cognitively decline by 5 points according to the 3MS test, compared to the 10.9 years that an adult with normal hearing would require.

During the study, the researchers acknowledged that the use of hearing aids did not factor in greatly, as it was not what they were testing for with this study. However, they do not discourage the use; in fact, while they did not specifically look for an association, the researchers did mention that hearing aids could potentially be a useful tool in preventing further cognitive decline in those with hearing loss.

Managing Hearing Loss To Prevent Cognitive Decline

One of the limits of the study is that the researchers were more interested in finding the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss, not how to manage the hearing loss-induced cognitive decline. However, that does not mean there are not ways to manage your hearing loss and protect your mind.

To help prevent dementia and cognitive impairment, it is important to come in for an annual hearing test. A comprehensive test will be able to determine if you have any level of hearing loss. Our doctors of audiology can assist you in correcting your hearing loss, protecting both your ability to hear and your mind.

If hearing loss is detected during your hearing evaluation, our audiologists can provide you with options. Some of these options are:

  • Hearing aids – There are many styles and brands of hearing aids to choose from, from visible, powerful hearing aids to practically invisible devices. With the help of hearing aids, you can start to participate in the world of sound around you again.
  • Aural rehabilitation – Receiving hearing aids is just the first step; aural rehabilitation is often required to re-acquaint yourself with how to cope with your newly improved hearing. Our doctors of audiology can help you learn new hearing and speech strategies.
  • Cerumen removal – Cerumen (earwax) can contribute to hearing loss, and if your ears are prone to developing cerumen, your hearing aids can become damaged. Our audiologists can safely remove the excess.
  • Adjustments – Hearing aids are not a one-size-fits-all kind of device. To ensure they work for your hearing needs, our audiologists can fit and reprogram your hearing aids.

So, if you are ready to take control of your hearing loss and protect yourself from cognitive decline, contact us today to set up an appointment.

Source: Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults

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