Hearing decline can have a drastic effect on the lives of those who suffer from it. Beyond not being able to interact with the world around us as you’ve always done; unable to hear traffic, conversation or music, a decline in hearing has also been linked to cognitive decline and symptoms of depression and other mood disorders like anxiety. A study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2010, found that there are a large amount of cognitive and psychological benefits of using hearing aids, including improved mental health and a decrease in the likelihood of developing dementia.
Looking at a group of moderately to severely hearing impaired patients over 65 years of age, Acar and colleagues measured the level of hearing loss in each subject as well as administering tests which looked at both level of depressive symptoms and cognitive performance. After providing the patients with hearing aids, the tests were repeated once a three month period had elapsed, with all patients showing a significant improvement in both psychological state and mental functions. In their study Acar and colleagues identified that while dementia wasn’t caused solely by hearing loss, its onset was worsened by hearing loss. With over half of Australians aged between 60 and 70 experiencing some kind of hearing loss, treatment of this problem is vital.
Hearing Loss & Declining Age
As we get older our hearing inevitably declines, this is known as Presbycusis. The most common type of Sensorineural Hearing Loss, Presbycusis is caused by the natural ageing of our auditory system. Occurring gradually, it initially affects our ability to hear higher pitched sounds and eventually leads to the inability to hear a larger range of noises. There is little that can be done to prevent this type of hearing loss as it is a normal part of ageing for many, however with early treatment such as the fitting of hearing aids, the symptoms can be vastly improved and decline slowed, so that quality of life can be maintained.
Is there a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline?
The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins’ researchers, examined 126 participants over 10 years with yearly Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI’s) to track brain activity, physicals and hearing tests. Of these 126 participants, 75 had normal hearing, while the other 51 experienced some form of impaired hearing loss.
From analysing the test results over time, the researchers discovered that those with hearing loss had accelerated rates of cognitive decline compared to those with normal hearing. They also discovered that the same group lost more than an additional cubic centimetre of brain tissue each year, against the control group.
As mentioned by the primary scientist Frank Lin, “if you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.”
This then puts into perspective the immediacy in correcting hearing loss so as to protect against potential future cognitive problems.
Hearing Loss & Depressive Symptoms
When a person’s hearing declines, without the use of hearing aids, their mental health was found also to decline for the following reasons:
- Sensory deprivation (not being able to hear sound) can mean a loss of independence and lead to depression
- Inability to engage in social interactions can lead to depression as sufferers feel isolated from their friends and families
- Not being able to understand what is being said in interactions with strangers (as well as loved ones) can exacerbate anxiety disorders
- Inability to hear can lead to an avoidance of medical practitioners and lead to self-assessed health conditions
Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression can then lead to the worsening of preexisting pathological conditions, such as dementia and alzheimers. In their study, Acar and colleagues suggested that a decline in cognitive functions often indicated a progression of dementia and alzheimers, which is then followed by an increase in morbidity, mortality and problems associated with the care of older patients.
What can I do to combat cognitive decline and depressive symptoms because of hearing loss?
Hearing loss is extremely common. With one in six Australians now being affected by hearing loss, it’s important to consider the long-term health effects of this, especially on our cognitive abilities.
To combat cognitive decline from hearing loss, we suggest the following:
1. Schedule a hearing test
A hearing test is the first step in understanding your sense of hearing and potential hearing loss.
At Bay Audio, we offer free hearing tests at our various locations, so book your appointment in today with one of our experienced audiologists. From here, we can determine whether or not you need a hearing aid and if so, what type of hearing aid is best suited to you.
2. Take care of your health
Make sure you visit the doctor at least once a year for a health check-up. Maintain a healthy diet not overladen with sugary and salty foods and aim to get around 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
3. Stay physically active
Exercise not only keeps your body in shape, but it can improve your cognitive function. It’ll help you maintain your strength, give you more energy, prevent disease and illness and improve your mood.
4. Keep your mind active
To reduce cognitive decline, look to activities that challenge the brain. Try learning something new, reading a book, playing a game, volunteering; anything and everything that helps to keep your brain stimulated.
Improvement with Hearing Aids
Acar’s study found that amongst the focus group, none of whom had used hearing aids before, a drastic improvement was observed after three months of treatment, including:
- A large decrease of depressive signs
- A statistically significant increase in cognitive functions
Dementia Australia recommends regular testing of your, and your loved ones’ hearing in order to help avoid cognitive decline associated with hearing loss. Early diagnosis of hearing loss and prompt intervention can lead to a maintained quality of life, enjoyable social interactions and the ability for those with hearing loss to still feel they are an important part of their community.