Hearing loss is now associated with many physical conditions, and in the last few years, it has been proven that hearing loss is connected with cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
This month is mental health awareness month and we wanted to take a closer look at how hearing loss and Alzheimer’s are connected.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging found that while the brain shrinks with age, this change is hastened in older adults with hearing loss.
Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues studied the differences in brain changes (e.g., how much the brain shrinks) based on data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging where 126 patients were studied over the course of 10 years. Using routine brain scans and hearing tests, the team measured the width of the brain tissue for each subject and found that the subjects who had entered the study with hearing loss exhibited accelerated rates of brain atrophy when compared to those subjects who had normal hearing.
Those with hearing loss saw the following results:
- Accelerated rates of brain shrinkage
- Loss over an additional 1 cubic centimer of brain tissue each year compared to those with normal hearing
- More shrinkage in superior, middle and inferior temporal gyri (structures of the brain responsible for processing sound and speech)
While Lin said it was no surprise those with hearing loss saw more shrinkage in the areas responsible for sound and speech as that may occur due to an “impoverished auditory complex”— the results of the hearing loss itself. He also said that because those areas don’t work alone, their diminishment may signal overall degradation of the brain. For example, the middle and inferior temporal gyri also help with memory and sensory integration and have been shown to be in involved with early stages of Alzheimer’s.
The findings of this research indicate that hearing loss and Alzheimer’s are correlated, but what it also shows is that there is urgency to treating hearing loss early. Lin suggested that if the hearing loss is contributing to the brain changes they found in the MRIs, it is key to take action early.
Getting your hearing checked and treated early could mean better long-term brain performance, a lesser chance of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and overall, better long-term health and wellness. A recent study has even shown getting your hearing checked early can help prevent cognitive decline.
Have you gotten your hearing checked lately? It might help you more than you think.