(BPT) – Many consider hearing loss a part of getting older — something of an inconvenience but safe to work around and ignore. They don’t realize how much hearing loss can affect overall health, including mental acuity. In fact, scientists are finding more and more links between hearing loss and cognitive diseases, including dementia. Their recommendations are clear: get your hearing tested, and when hearing loss is present, seek treatment, such as getting hearing aids.
Here are five ways hearing loss may contribute to increased risk for cognitive decline and dementia.
1. It’s harder to understand speech.
An individual with untreated hearing loss has to spend a lot more mental effort trying to hear and understand. This increased “cognitive load” means the brain spends more resources trying to compensate for the hearing loss at the expense of other processes, such as memory and thinking.
2. Vital portions of your brain shrink.
With hearing loss, the part of the brain responsible for hearing atrophies. These same areas also play roles in memory and sensory integration, and have been shown to be involved in the early stages of cognitive impairment and dementia.
3. You withdraw socially.
Hearing loss leads to social isolation. When you can’t hear, you tend to withdraw from social interactions. You might call your friends less often because you can’t turn the volume on your phone loud enough. Family gatherings become less fun because you’re always asking others to repeat themselves. The subsequent social isolation has been linked to cognitive decline in numerous studies.
4. Staying active may become difficult
Older adults with hearing loss tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles. Exercising with others (e.g., in yoga classes or Nordic walking) may lose its appeal because of communication difficulties. Multiple studies established the link between physical inactivity and increased risk for dementia and other cognitive disorders.
5. A common cause of hearing loss and cognitive decline?
There could be a common process or condition that contributes to both hearing and cognitive decline. This root cause could be neuropathological, vascular or genetic. Scientists have yet to pinpoint it.
Wearing hearing aids help people remain active intellectually, physically and socially. All this can have a positive effect on your overall health and possibly delay the onset of mental decline and dementia.