Aging Options

Hearing loss linked to brain shrinkage

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Need a reason to wear your hearing aid or to get one in the first place? Look no further than a study that found that for aging adults the brain shrinks with age but that initial shrinking increases with hearing loss.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging added to the growing list of health consequences associated with hearing loss. Previous studies have found that hearing loss increased the risk of dementia, falls, hospitalization and diminished physical and mental health overall. Nearly two-thirds of Americans 70 and older have hearing loss. You are at greater risk of having hearing loss if you are an older white, male. Despite the sheer numbers of older individuals with hearing loss, experts believe that only one-fifth have hearing aids and only 3 percent of those with mild hearing loss take advantage of hearing devices.

Researchers compared brain changes of normal hearing adults over time with adults with hearing loss. The adults in the study underwent annual MRI testing to track changes for up to ten years. The study participants also had complete physicals at the time of the MRIs. What they found was those subjects that had hearing loss began the study with significant shrinkage in particular regions associated with sound and speech. Those results were not unexpected. However, researchers found that those areas don’t work in isolation and that atrophy in those areas can be associated with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that impaired hearing individuals lost more than an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared to those subjects with normal hearing.  Here’s more about the study.

Question still exist on whether treating hearing loss early can reduce the risk of health problems.

The Nation Institutes of Health recommend you answer these questions to see if you might have hearing loss.

  • Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
  • Do you have trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?
  • Do people complain that you turn the TV volume up too high?
  • Do you have to strain to understand conversation?
  • Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
  • Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
  • Do many people you talk to seem to mumble or not speak clearly?
  • Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
  • Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
  • Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?
  • Do you hear a ringing, roaring, or hissing sound a lot?

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may want to see an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist), or an audiologist for a hearing evaluation.

For additional stories on hearing studies:

Excess weight associated with hearing loss

New study links hearing loss and cognitive decline


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