Exploring the Connection Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Hearing loss is widespread in Encino. An estimated one out of every five Californians has a hearing impairment to some degree; whether mild or severe, the impact on their daily lives is great. Not only does hearing loss make communication difficult; it has been linked to a number of health hazards. One of the most troubling is cognitive decline.

Cognitive Decline Rates

Older couple sitting on a bench looking at a mountain

Hearing loss isn’t just a problem in California; it’s prevalent throughout the world, ranking as one of the most common chronic physical conditions. More people experience hearing loss than diabetes or cancer. That number is expected to grow higher as the global population ages. This puts an increasing number of people at risk for negative side effects, such as a decline in cognitive ability.

A new study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital shows a positive link between hearing loss and cognitive decline – results that corroborate those found in a number of other studies published in recent years. These findings illustrate the importance of early detection and treatment.

The eight-year study followed more than 10,000 men aged 62 and older and found conclusive evidence of a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Looking at subjective cognitive function (SCF) scores based on answers to a six-item questionnaire administered in four-year intervals beginning in 2008 and ending in 2016, researchers discovered that – compared to people with normal hearing – their test subjects experienced the following:

  • Rates of cognitive decline were 30 percent higher in men with mild hearing loss
  • Those with moderate hearing loss experienced cognitive decline rates 42 percent higher
  • Individuals with severe hearing loss who were not treating their condition with hearing aids had 54 percent higher cognitive decline rates

Using Hearing Aids to Modify Risk

Some research studies have found that using hearing aids can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. While the rates were lower for patients with severe hearing loss who wore hearing aids (37 percent higher), the statistical difference (17 percentage points) wasn’t great enough to make a definitive statement on the efficacy of hearing aids in preventing cognitive decline. The authors conclude that the benefit provided by hearing aids, at least in those with a severe impairment, might be modest at best.

Researchers do concede that the test population primarily consisted of older white males and that results were self-reported and cognitive function testing was largely subjective. A more diverse group of participants would be beneficial in order to produce more well-rounded and definitive results. The group plans to do additional testing to measure the correlation between self-reported hearing loss, changes in audiometric hearing thresholds and cognitive changes in women and younger patients using a variety of assessment measures.

Given that dementia remains a serious public health problem that is expected to continue growing, any indication of hearing loss should prompt a visit to your Encino audiologist for further testing and treatment.

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