Sound Thinking: Hearing Health Wellness

By John R. Simpson, M.D., F.A.C.S.

In this issue, we continue our Hearing Health Wellness Series that features natural and non-natural factors that impact hearing health. This month’s feature focuses on the role that hearing plays in our ability to maintain mental sharpness.

Staying Mentally Sharp is Vital to Aging Well.

According to the 2015 United States of Aging Survey, staying mentally sharp is a top concern of adults. Survey respondents, who were U.S. adults ages 60 and older, identified three key barriers to maintaining mental acuity:

  1. Loss of important relationships
  2. Decreased cognitive ability
  3. Depression

All three of these barriers have been linked to untreated hearing loss.

Untreated hearing loss is linked to loss of important relationships.

Social isolation is a common result of untreated hearing loss, and several studies have linked the two. As hearing becomes increasingly challenging, many people avoid or minimize activities that require social interaction or where hearing plays a key role, such as going to restaurants, worship services, family outings, or events with music or mingling.

Untreated hearing loss is linked to decreased cognitive ability.

Cognitive decline is when a person begins having trouble remembering, learning new things, or making everyday decisions. Currently, this affects tens of millions of Americans.

A study by Johns Hopkins concluded that untreated hearing loss accelerates cognitive decline in older adults by 30-40%. Scientists believe the extra effort exerted by the brain to listen and comprehend actually “steals” or absorbs resources from the part of the brain used for memory and decision-making.
MRIs of people with hearing loss have shown the part of the brain responsible for sound and speech “shrinks” faster than normal, likely due to atrophy from lack of stimulation.
Frank Lin, MD., Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins Medicine warns, “hearing loss should not be an inconsequential part of aging, because it may come with some serious long-term consequences to healthy brain functioning.”

Untreated hearing loss is linked to depression.

Eighteen to 69 year olds with untreated hearing loss have reported significantly higher instances of moderate-to-severe depression than peers with normal hearing.

Humans are social creatures, and researchers believe depression is a natural consequence of social isolation. Lack of regular human interaction has long been proven to increase feelings of anxiety and depression, even in people with normal hearing.

Treating hearing loss can help remove the barriers to staying mentally sharp.

Treating hearing loss through amplification is proven to help remove these key barriers by having a positive impact on relationships, reducing the risk of cognitive decline, and boosting optimism and confidence.

Most people who currently wear hearing aids say it has had a positive effect on their relationships. According to the American Academy of Audiology, hearing aid users have reported significant improvement in their relationships at home, sense of independence, and social life.

Treating hearing loss has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline. A 25-year study, published in 2015, validated that hearing loss accelerated cognitive decline, but suggests that hearing aid use could slow that decline.

Research has also shown treating hearing loss boosts optimism and confidence. The Better Hearing Institute found people with hearing loss who use hearing aids are more likely to be optimistic, and feel more confident and engaged in life.

Address your hearing loss sooner rather than later.

There is significant value in treating your hearing loss early. Hearing loss has been linked to many aspects of one’s overall health, and mental sharpness is just one facet. Addressing your hearing loss early can help avoid structural brain changes according to Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D. Johns Hopkins Medicine. And the use of amplification can help maintain mental sharpness while boosting one’s overall quality of life.

If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss and have not sought treatment, we encourage you to come in for a free hearing consultation. We will perform a free hearing screening, discuss available treatment options, and answer any questions you may have regarding hearing loss.

Call us today: (706) 526-2006.

The Better Hearing Institute
American Academy of Audiology
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
John Hopkins Medicine
The Hearing Journal