Aging can bring about many kinds of complications, from decreasing mobility to diminishing senses like hearing loss, cardiovascular complications and neurological issues like memory loss and Alzheimer’s. In some cases, these can be interrelated; for example, if a diabetic’s condition worsens with age then complications can include retinopathy (damage to the retinas) as well as heightened risk for foot injuries due to impaired blood circulation in the body’s smaller blood vessels.
Memory Loss and Hearing Loss’ Relation
The same can apply for memory loss and hearing loss. Studies from John Hopkins have shown that hearing loss accelerates brain function decline in older adults, and that hearing loss and dementia are linked. Dementia, according to the Mayo Clinic, is not one specific disease but symptoms affecting a person’s memory, thinking and social abilities to a degree that can interfere with daily life. In the studies, they compared volunteers with normal hearing and those with varying degrees of hearing loss, the latter of whom were proportionately at risk of developing dementia over time. In short, the greater their hearing loss, the greater their risk of developing memory and thought impairing disease.
The studies give several possible explanations, such as how hearing loss leads to social isolation, which in turn can connect to cognitive decline as loneliness is one of its risk factors; degraded hearing might also cause the brain to direct more energy to processing sound at the expense of memory and thinking. There might also be underlying common damage or degradation in both that cause them to come hand in hand.
While the exact mechanisms are still unknown, the link between them is undeniably strong. It is not surprising that hearing loss can contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s, the latter being a type of dementia. Sensory input is a crucial component of brain function, cognition and memory retention, hearing is one of our most vital forms of sensory inputs as evidenced by our internal monologue, how we “talk to ourselves” while thinking, and of course by how we talk to each other, as socializing is another form of “input.” Gradually losing one’s hearing might adversely affect how one’s mind works, and that includes memory.
The Importance of Treatment
John Hopkins otologist and epidemiologist, Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., who was the senior investigator of one of the studies, states that their findings emphasize the importance of physicians discussing hearing with their patients and being proactive in addressing any declines over time. Treating hearing loss might mitigate its cognitive consequences.
Unfortunately, while hearing impairments affect countless Americans over the age of 50, only a small percentage of those who need hearing aids actually get one. This means that for many, the problem of hearing loss and its cognitive consequences, are unaddressed.
This shows that more can and must be done to treat hearing loss. It cannot be ignored or brushed off as just another part of aging, as complacency may allow what could have been preventable complications to develop and worsen. Treatments, assistive devices (such as hearing aids) and education must be readily available for those facing hearing loss, so they can avail of said measures upon their physician’s’ recommendation. Ultimately, maintaining their quality of life, and staving off hearing loss’ worse effects, must be regarded with paramount importance.