Hearing Aids Mitigate Cognitive Decline in Older People          

Hearing Aids Mitigate Cognitive Decline in Older People          

In Cognitive Health by Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

How Hearing Works

If you are able, hearing is just something that just happens. Until you start to lose it, how hearing works may never cross your mind. To understand hearing loss, you should know how hearing works. First, sound enters the ear canal and moves to the eardrum. This sound causes the eardrum to vibrate. The sound vibrations work their way through the ossicles and to the cochlea. The vibrations cause the fluid in the cochlea to move. The movement of the fluid makes the hair cells bend; this creates neural signals that are picked up by the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve then sends signals to the brain, which then interprets sound.

Understanding Sensorineural Hearing Loss

The human ear contains three parts, outer, middle and inner. Sensorineural hearing loss or SNHL deals with the inner ear. This type of hearing loss happens when there is inner ear damage but it can also happen when the nerve pathway from your brain to your inner ear isn’t working correctly. SNHL is the most common form of permanent hearing loss. There are several causes and while surgery may repair the inner ear damage, it is very unlikely. Some of the causes are illness, drugs, hereditary, aging, head trauma, problems with inner ear formation, and listening to loud noises. When it comes to illnesses, there are a few that can result in hearing loss like a tumor, AIDS, mumps, measles and diabetes mellitus. Some drugs that can cause hearing loss are carbon monoxide, toluene, hexane, heavy metals: tin, lead and mercury, styrene and butyl nitrite.

Studies on Cognitive Decline and Untreated Hearing Loss

Studies have shown a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. While there is evidence that hearing loss can hasten cognitive decline, wearing hearing aids may not decrease the risk of dementia. Studies of older adults found that those experiencing hearing loss are 24 percent more likely to experience cognitive decline. They had more problems with brain function than their peers with normal hearing. The study also showed the more severe the hearing loss the more severe the cognitive decline over time.

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

The treatment for SNHL can either be pharmacological, surgical or just managed. Now SNHL is permanent hearing loss so any treatments employed should not be thought of as a cure. If SNHL results in total hearing loss, cochlear implants can be surgically implanted. Cochlear implants are devices that work as the inner ear. Because of this, the sound they produce will be a little different from natural sound. When SNHL is just going to be managed you are taught better communication techniques and lip-reading. Hearing aids may also be used in addition to these methods. While cochlear implants work as the inner ear to produce sound, hearing aids just amplify sound so you can hear your surroundings better. Cochlear implants are much more expensive than hearing aids so they are only used in extreme cases.

Cognitive Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss

Studies have shown that cognitive decline and hearing loss are linked. But once the decline happens like dementia, hearing aids may not help. When a person is dealing with hearing loss, they become withdrawn and close themselves off from the world and from their family. Because they can no longer hear the way they used to they no longer know how to interact with the world. Treating hearing loss, be it with hearing aids or implants, can only improve the person’s way of life. The more an older person interacts with their family and the world around them the sharper they are. This means that if hearing loss hurts a person’s brain function than treating the hearing loss can only improve it. It also means that hearing loss needs to be treated sooner rather than later.

Schedule an Appointment with Roseville Diagnostic Hearing Center

When you realize you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss you should seek a hearing specialist immediately. The longer you wait the worse it will get. When hearing loss is left untreated that person is five times more likely to experience cognitive disorders and to become withdrawn. We can help diagnose your hearing loss, talk to you about treatments and tune your hearing aids for your specific type of loss.