Hearing loss is very common as people age. This loss can affect how we interact with friends, family, and even simple tasks as we go about our daily lives. A leading researcher locally at Johns Hopkins Medical Center has studied the connection between hearing loss and dementia.
“The general perception is that hearing loss is a relatively inconsequential part of aging,” says Frank Lin, M.D., an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Lin says recent findings suggest that it may play a much more important role in brain health than previously believed.
Fortunately, Dr. Lin sees the potential upside. If this connection — shown in several recent and well-regarded studies — holds up, it raises the possibility that treating hearing loss more aggressively could help stave off cognitive decline and dementia. Lin and other researchers have several theories about the possible cause of the link between hearing and dementia, although they aren’t yet sure which of them — if any — will hold true.
Dr. Lin has authored several recent studies pointing to a link between hearing and cognitive problems ranging from mild impairment all the way to dementia. In a 2013 study, he and his colleagues tracked concentration, memory and planning skills of nearly 2,000 adults whose average age was 77. After six years, those who began the study with hearing loss severe enough to interfere with conversation were 24 percent more likely than those with normal hearing to have seen their cognitive abilities diminish. Essentially, the researchers say, hearing loss appeared to accelerate age-related cognitive decline.
It is common to see older patients withdraw and feel isolated from family and friends due to their hearing loss. Acknowledging this loss and treating it is the first step to reconnecting with the world around us. Not only will it improve daily communication, but it can help prevent or delay cognitive decline. If you suspect you have trouble hearing, please contact us to have it evaluated.