Cognitive decline, which includes memory loss, dementia, and other types of impaired brain functioning, impacts millions of adults in the U.S. each year. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 9 adults in the U.S. self-report subjective cognitive decline. That’s when someone notices confusion or memory loss in themselves. That doesn’t include the caregivers and loved ones who notice cognitive decline among their friends and family members.
Hearing loss, which one in every eight people experiences, can accelerate or worsen cognitive decline. To be clear, hearing loss doesn’t trigger cognitive decline – it’s only accurate to say that a correlation exists between the two. This correlation may be strong enough that protecting your hearing now can also help maintain your brain functioning later in life. Here’s everything you should know about hearing loss, cognitive decline, and preventing both.
A wide body of scientific research has shown that those with hearing loss are more likely to experience cognitive decline than those with unaltered hearing. Additionally, people who either don’t know they have hearing loss or neglect to treat it complain of memory loss more frequently than do people with full hearing.
The below four scientific studies shine an especially strong light on the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline:
- A 2013 study reported in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine examined the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline in a sample of 2,000 seniors. The study concluded that seniors with hearing loss experienced faster rates of cognitive decline than those with full hearing.
- A 2019 study reported in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, which is the official scientific journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, surveyed 10,000 men aged 62 and older over eight years. Among these men, the likelihood of complaints about memory function increased as hearing loss accelerated.
- A similar six-year study that Johns Hopkins University reported in 2013 reported similar findings. Among 1,984 men and women between the ages of 75 and 84, cognition in those with hearing loss declined 30 to 40 percent more than those with no hearing loss. Participants with hearing loss experienced substantial cognitive decline 3.2 years sooner than other participants.
- A 2014 Otology & Neurotology study found that, among a group of 4,500 seniors without dementia, 16.3 percent of participants with hearing loss developed dementia within a decade. On the other hand, 12.1 percent of participants with full hearing developed hearing loss within 12 years.
Some amount of cognitive decline is inevitable as we age. However, protecting your hearing can forestall your cognitive decline or lessen its pace. Some easy ways to protect your hearing now and prevent hearing loss tomorrow include:
- Using protective devices. In more common loud sound situations such as concerts or parties, earplugs should do the trick. If you regularly work with power tools or other loud objects, earmuffs designed for hearing protection may be necessary. You can also replace your current tools with those from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Buy Quiet list.
- Keep the volume down. When you expose yourself to quieter but still audible sounds, you minimize damage to the hair cells in your ears. Over the long term, the result is less hearing loss. To achieve this goal, keep your TV’s volume as low as possible while watching shows or movies. Same goes for listening to music, especially if you’re using headphones or earbuds in place of speakers.
- Take breaks from loud noise exposure. Even if you’re only rarely exposed to loud noise, your infrequent exposure can still affect your hearing. That’s why you should step outside occasionally during loud events or work tasks. If your ears are ringing or your hearing is muffled after loud noise exposure, you should avoid sounds louder than conversation for 12 to 16 hours.
If the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline concerns you, then contact an audiologist for a hearing test. These pain-free, non-invasive exams are easy and quick. During your test, you’ll listen to sounds or speech, then respond as instructed. An audiogram will display your results, which will show the extent of any hearing loss you might have.
If hearing loss is detected, hearing aids will be your best solution for bridging the gap. They can also lead to a later onset of cognitive decline. A 2019 Journal of the American Geriatrics Societystudy made this observation based on data from hundreds of thousands of participants. Hearing aids may thus be your best solution for both conditions, which aren’t curable but can absolutely be lived with. And here at I Love Hearing, we have decades of experience providing exactly the right hearing aids to those who need them.
Whether you’re being proactive about a family history of cognitive decline or already feel your memory becoming weaker, it’s never too soon (or late) to take action. Hearing exams and hearing aids should be part of your solution, and at I Love Hearing, we offer both services in our four Long Island offices.
Our audiologists will perform hearing tests for anyone of any age. If we identify hearing loss, we’ll help you create and follow a robust treatment plan. Plus, if you make an appointment for yourself, we’ll perform a free additional hearing test for whoever accompanies you!
Book an appointment with I Love Hearing now to start protecting your hearing and cognition. The idea of losing your memory with time can seem scary, but in our hands, you’ll be better prepared to keep your mind sharp forever.