Untreated Hearing Loss Linked To Dementia

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Did you know that untreated hearing loss is linked to dementia?

We all do our best to maintain good health, and mental health is no exception. As we age, one of the looming fears is the potential onset of dementia. A recent Johns Hopkins study[1] reveals a surprising risk factor – untreated hearing loss. The findings in this study indicate that hearing loss accelerates brain atrophy (brain shrinkage) in people with hearing loss.

In this study, Dr. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., analyzed how the brain changes over the span of up to ten years in people with normal hearing and people with impaired hearing. Throughout the duration of the study, 126 participants received MRIs and hearing tests. For the 51 participants with impaired hearing at the start of the study, Dr. Lin and his colleagues observed accelerated rates of brain atrophy as compared to the 75 participants with normal hearing. The participants with impaired hearing lost over an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue per year, compared to their counterparts with normal hearing. Brain shrinkage was particularly significant in areas of the brain responsible for sound and speech processing.

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Dr. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D

According to Dr. Lin, brain shrinkage can be attributed to a lack stimulation of the auditory cortex (the part of the brain that is concerned with hearing). A person with untreated hearing loss is susceptible to brain atrophy due to inactivity in the auditory cortex. Consequently, hearing loss affects normal cognitive functions, even posing a significant threat to one’s health. Moreover, the different areas of the brain do not work in isolation, which increases the likelihood of developing a mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

Given the results of the study, Dr. Lin recommends treating hearing loss “sooner rather than later.” The longer one waits, the more the brain is potentially damaged by atrophy. Hearing aids are capable of treating hearing loss and preventing brain atrophy caused by an inactive auditory cortex.

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[1] Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss – 01/22/2014

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