Hearing Loss and Cognition

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Recently, the Hearing Center at Jacksonville Hearing and Balance Institute partnered with Phonak (a major hearing aid company) to give a presentation to the community regarding the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. Unfortunately, it filled up too quickly for us to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. Just in case you missed it, here are some of the highlights from the presentation:

The study in question was conducted by Frank Lin, Ph.D. and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University using information gathered from older adults over a period of decades. The researchers found that those individuals with untreated hearing loss (whether it was mild, moderate, severe, or profound) were significantly more likely to experience cognitive impairments than their normal hearing peers.

But just how are hearing loss and cognitive impairment connected? As Dr. Lin reports, “Your inner ear has to take in a complex sound and convert it into a signal that goes into the brain. When we say that people have hearing loss, it means the inner ear is no longer as good at encoding those signals with accuracy and fidelity. So the brain gets a very garbled message — you can hear what’s being said but you can’t quite make it out. It takes a little more effort to hear what that person said. As a result, the brain has to re-dedicate sources to help with hearing and sound processing. That comes at the loss of something else.” Dr. Lin also notes that, “As we develop hearing loss, we withdraw socially. You’re less likely to go out and you may be less likely to be engaged in conversation.”

While more research needs to be completed regarding the link between hearing loss, social isolation, and cognitive decline, these early results certainly emphasize the importance of hearing heath on one’s overall health. Unfortunately, up to two-thirds of adults with hearing loss remain untreated. Here at JHBI, we hope that by increasing awareness about this topic, we can identify hearing impairments and possible intervention strategies earlier rather than later.

Resources:

Lin, F. R., et al. (2013). Hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. JAMA Internal Medicine(4), 173, 293-293. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1868