Cognitive Decline

The Link between Cognitive Decline, Dementia and Hearing Loss

Most people never think about it but do you realize that you don’t hear with your ears. The ear merely collects vibrations, converts them to electrical impulses and sends them to the brain to be interpreted. The actual hearing occurs in our brains.

This may sound like a small distinction but recent research has found that this auditory input to the brain is more crucial to our overall mental health than has ever been realized. In studies around the globe, a direct link has been established between cognitive decline, dementia and hearing loss.

As explained by Dr. Arthur Wingfield, a professor of Neuroscience at Brandeis University, “unaddressed hearing loss not only affects the listener’s ability to “hear” the sound accurately, but it also affects higher-level cognitive function. Specifically, it interferes with the listener’s ability to accurately process the auditory information and make sense of it.”

Wingfield continued, “Even if you have just a mild hearing loss that is not being treated, cognitive load increases significantly, you have to put in so much effort just to perceive and understand what is being said that you divert resources away from storing what you have heard into your memory.”

This diversion of resources causes the brain to actually rewire itself reducing its ability to store and recall information. These are both early signs of the onset of dementia and key factors leading to Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study performed by a research group in Berlin and mirrored by scientists at The University of Tokyo found a 73% correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. This study also utilized MRI imaging to look for physical changes in the brain. What they found was rather shocking even to them. In patients as young as 25 years old, with slight hearing losses, a sign of early-stage dementia could be seen in their brain structure.

It would appear from this research and the many other studies currently being conducted, that one of the best insurance policies we can have for preserving our minds is to take care of our hearing. Even what may be considered minor hearing issues can have devastating long term effects on our mental abilities and should never be ignored.

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