Can hearing loss make your brain shrink? Can hearing aids improve a person's mental health?
These questions may not make a lot of sense. When we think of the impact hearing loss can have on an individual, many things come to mind. A student with hearing loss will have trouble hearing a lecture. An athlete with hearing loss may have trouble feeling like they are a part of a team.
As we know, hearing health isn't just an issue for young people. For senior citizens, hearing loss is something that is often a byproduct of ageing, and can bring specific challenges. Scielo.br calls hearing loss one of the most devastating sensorial deficiencies, because it compromises communication and causes emotional, social and occupational sequelae, adding that hearing loss is usually a harbinger of ageing.
So it's not a secret that our brains become smaller with age but according to a report in Johns Hopkins Medicine, brain shrinkage seems to be fast-tracked in older adults with hearing loss.
According to the report, 126 participants underwent yearly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track brain changes for up to 10 years. Each also had complete physicals at the time of the first MRI in 1994, including hearing tests. At the starting point, 75 had normal hearing, and 51 had impaired hearing, with at least a 25-decibel loss. The report went on to say those participants whose hearing was already impaired at the start of the sub-study had accelerated rates of brain atrophy compared to those with normal hearing. Overall, the scientists report, those with impaired hearing lost more than an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared with those with normal hearing.
"Our results suggest that hearing loss could be another 'hit' on the brain in many ways," says Dr. Frank Lin.
Jon Waterhouse, Manager of Professional Practice for Connect Hearing Canada says the study is important because it sheds more light on the effects of hearing loss. He is hoping that people will be encouraged to learn as much as they can about hearing aid technology.
“One of the things about hearing loss that I find astounding is the impact it has on different areas of an individuals life. Many people like to think of hearing loss as an ear problem, but nothing can be further from the truth,” says Waterhouse. “It's a depression issue, it's an independence issue, it's a senior welfare issue, it's a financial security issue, it's a mental health issue. The beautiful thing about this study is that it sheds light on hearing loss and how it affects people who are dealing with it. One thing I believe is that early intervention – including getting people fitted with hearing aids as soon as possible – could be a way not only to fight against hearing loss, but also contain or perhaps even reverse some mental ailments. Of course, more study will be needed before that is proven, but we do know improved hearing health doesn't just help your ears. ”
According to AAFP, hearing loss affects approximately one-third of adults 61 to 70 years of age and more than 80 percent of those older than 85 years. Men usually experience greater hearing loss and have earlier onset compared with women. The article went on to say that at least 28 million U.S. adults have hearing loss. After hypertension and arthritis, it is the most common chronic health problem in older persons.
Connect Hearing understands only too well the impact hearing loss can have on people's lives, and that is one reason why the organization encourages people to come in for a Free Hearing Test.
“Every day, there are different studies being done on issues surrounding hearing loss, and it's a wonderful thing to see,” says Waterhouse. “Studies like this create interest and draw attention to what I believe is one of the most important health issues facing our population today – the impact of hearing loss on our senior citizens.”