Not much is known about the causal mechanisms between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, but there are some theories and some much needed exciting new avenues for help in addition to hearing aids.
There is a circular path between cognition and hearing loss. Hearing loss, specifically age-related hearing loss, involves both structural and functional changes to both the brain and the ear.
The Correlation With Aging And Cognitive Function
Cognitive decline with age accelerates our loss of hearing. This is likely related to our loss of perception, lack of verbal comprehension, and social isolation, which can be common when we can’t hear as well.
Even mild cognitive impairment can be associated with important warning signs for our mental and psychological health. In fact, dementia is fast becoming the single greatest challenge for health and social well-being in this century.
With age-related hearing loss, there can be peripheral damage to the inner ear, specifically the cochlea or cochlear nerve. There can also be damage to the superior auditory pathways known as the cochlear nuclei and auditory cortex of the brain, which alters the transmission of information to the brain, usually because of vascular changes or just aging itself.
The brain atrophies and the result can be cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and hearing loss.
How Can An Audiologist Help With Cognitive Decline?
During a routine hearing test, an audiologist will evaluate not only our ability to hear sounds at different frequencies but also whether we can interpret the sounds into meaningful responses such as speech.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), most people wait an average of 7 years before having a hearing test or considering hearing aids.
Unfortunately, during that time, our loss of hearing can worsen our cognitive functioning. Some people have a cognitive impairment, but the hearing loss goes undiagnosed.
There is a lot of discussion about the fact that treating hearing loss with hearing aids works to delay the onset of cognitive problems. Similarly, improving and strengthening our cognition can have substantial effects on how we process sounds, including how we communicate with others.
One theory as to why this association between hearing and cognition occurs is what is called “increased cognitive load.”
How Does Hearing Loss Affect Our Cognition?
When we actively engage in activities that require mental ability, we strengthen ourselves in many ways. Hearing loss causes us to work harder to understand what people are saying or what is happening around us.
When there is a reduction of the sensory input of sounds reaching the brain for interpretation, the brain must work harder. By improving our cognition, we improve our hearing.
Another finding that doctors have discovered is that hearing loss is associated with changes in our brain structure and how it works.
In fact, with hearing loss, there are changes on MRI scans of the brain showing brain atrophy, among other things. Our other senses, usually vision, take over for the hearing loss and these compensatory changes to the brain alters brain function.
As we age, we are subject to many potential health conditions. One of the most common is atherosclerosis, or changes in how blood flows through the body. Other risk factors include smoking and diabetes.
All of these, and other conditions, affect both our hearing and cognitive impairment through a process known as neurodegenerative loss.
We may not be able to stop the damage that has been already done, but the good news is that we can dramatically slow the process or alter its course even with keeping ourselves active both mentally and physically.
How Does Hearing Loss Affect Our Well-being?
Lastly, hearing loss encourages solitude, which is a significant risk factor for cognitive decline. One of the first things that people with a hearing loss notice is the loss of the ability to filter out a conversation, particularly if there is background noise, such as in a busy household or even a restaurant or store.
The result is often apathy or lethargy in the person wanting to engage. Some people experience depression because of the frustration and embarrassment they feel over their difficulty with hearing and communicating.
This seems to affect older women more than older men, but it can affect everyone. Missing out on hearing things can lead to social isolation, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, a shortened life expectancy, and of course, cognitive decline.
The Use Of Cognivue To Prevent Cognitive Decline
Hearing aids can improve on social isolation and promote cognitive exercises through engagement.
Therefore, many audiologists now recommend Cognivue, which uses FDA-cleared technology to evaluate and help people with cognitive function who have a hearing loss.
Hearing aids are “aids.” They are different than eyeglasses, which strive for “correction.” Screening and improving cognition can also be viewed as an “aid.”
Hearing aids are generally used by people in better health and of higher socioeconomic status, but that is changing now as well due to affordability.
There is growing evidence that hearing solutions, including hearing aids and even cochlear implants, improve cognitive function, while screening for cognitive function improves the results of hearing “aids.”
Schedule A Cognivue Screening In Silicon Valley
Having cared for tens of thousands of incredible people since 1977, Pacific Hearing Service is the most trusted audiology practice in Silicon Valley, having gained the confidence of patients, leading organizations, and local physicians.
A comprehensive cognitive screening with our experts will identify if you have any issues with your cognitive health and ensure you receive a thorough diagnosis and individualized treatment plan from our caring team.
To schedule a cognitive screening, please fill out the form on this page.
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