A study by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging has compared adults with normal hearing and those with impaired hearing, and found a link between hearing loss and a reduction in the size of the brain (brain atrophy).
The researchers concluded that while everybody’s brain reduces in size with age, the reduction appears be accelerated in those with hearing damage.
Frank Lin (M.D., Ph.D.) who led the study found that the adults with impaired hearing had the most reduction in brain size in the areas that were responsible for processing sound and speech. He says this reductionin size can be linked to an increased risk of dementia, falls, hospitalisations, and diminished physical and overall mental health.
The concern that is raised by these research findings and others like them is whether hearing loss is a risk factor for developing dementia, as the two appear to be linked on first analysis. Further research is required to establish exactly how the two conditions interact and whether a clear link can be determined.
Lin believes that the reduction in size in those areas of the brain may be a consequence of an “impoverished” auditory cortex, which may shrink from a lack of stimulation.
Other research, such as the study in the Archives of Neurology, has also looked at people who have hearing loss in varying degrees, and found marked differences in the brain structure between those with impaired hearing and normal hearing.
After making his findings, Dr Lin suggests that hearing loss should be diagnosed and treated “sooner rather than later” in order to prevent further hearing degradation, and maintain brain health.
This study, while clearly demonstrating these links, calls for greater research around the topic and more awareness of brain and hearing health.
Prevention of hearing loss is an important step in mitigating cognitive decline. If you’re concerned about you’re hearing health, book an appointment with HearingLife today.