Exploring the Link Between Hearing & Cognitive Decline

Nancy was aware of her father’s lack of socialization during family gatherings. He would go in the living room and sit in his favorite chair alone and turn up the TV volume to a level that would interrupt the family conversations. He became forgetful, leaving his personal belongings in odd places and had trouble following conversations.

Ray noticed a change in his mother over the course of a few years; she was constantly upset with family and friends for not speaking up and would abruptly leave in the middle of a conversation, finding solace in the familiar silence of her room.

If these examples seem familiar to you, you are not alone.

The most common chronic health issue affecting older adults is hearing loss, yet less than 75% of adults with hearing loss who would benefit from hearing devices actually use them. A recent study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics shows a strong link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, finding two times the risk of dementia for those with mild hearing loss, three times for those with moderate hearing loss and five times with severe hearing loss. When hearing loss is left untreated, cognitive decline accelerates. This accelerated cognitive decline is believed to be related to the lack of social interaction and participation in cognitively stimulating events due to hearing loss.

We live in dynamic and complex listening environments where sound changes moment to moment. Our ears detect the sounds, but the signal is sent to the brain where cognitive function must make sense of it. In other words, listening is where the brain meets the ears! The brain is designed to receive certain details of sound in order to understand it. When it doesn’t get the correct details, our listening efforts are increased and our brains must work harder to focus on what is important and separate relevant sounds from competing noise. At the end of the day, this can be exhausting!

How can we be proactive about our hearing health? Receiving an annual hearing evaluation is the most effective way to monitor changes in hearing and provide appropriate treatment to improve communication function. This enables us to keep active with friends and family and continue to participate in the activities we enjoy. Annual hearing examinations are covered by Medicare and should be an integral part of all other health screenings.

If you currently have hearing devices that you are not using, see your provider to review how they may provide the solutions you need. Technology has certainly progressed over the years with wireless Bluetooth technology and very small and discreet sizes as well, so there really is something for everyone!

To learn more or to schedule an annual hearing evaluation, call Conejo Hearing Center at 818.991.3800 or visit ConejoHearingCenter.com. Conejo Hearing Center is located at 5655 Lindero Canyon Road, Suite 506 in Westlake Village.

Christine E. Wilson has been a licensed audiologist since 1999 and holds a B.S. in Business Administration, an M.S. in Communication Disorders and Sciences (Audiology) and a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A) from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association. She is a member of the American Academy of Audiology and the owner of Conejo Hearing Center.