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The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Age-related hearing impairment (ARHI) affects more than just the ability to hear – it can lead to feelings of social isolation, depression and possibly cognitive decline.

The connection between ARHI and cognitive decline has grown in recent years, with more studies finding associations between the two.

A study of 639 senior citizens determined that the rate of cognitive decline grew linearly with the amount of hearing loss the person experienced. The research also showed that the presence of mild, moderate or severe hearing impairment respectively corresponded with a 2-, 3-, or 5-fold increase in the risk of developing dementia.

Although there are also studies suggesting mixed results on the belief that hearing loss leads to dementia in otherwise healthy individuals, it should be noted that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence identifies hearing impairment as a potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia.

A study from the United Kingdom found that hearing impairment had a negative association with cognitive abilities in adults 50 years of age and older – when the hearing loss went untreated. The research suggested that social isolation served as a mediating factor for the cognitive decline.

This line of research would seem to suggest that hearing rehabilitation (including the use of hearing aids) can help minimize the risk of a person experiencing cognitive decline when dealing with hearing impairment.

The increasing size of the elderly population – as well as the associated rise of those living with ARHI – makes it critical for more research to be conducted.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Gregory C. Zachmann, a board-certified otolaryngologist and Ear, Nose and Throat physician, call (540) 283-6000.