How Hearing Loss Contributes To Cognitive Decline Skip to main content

June 15, 2023

By: Gerri Competiello, AuD

Understanding the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline

older male holding his ear having trouble hearing

Instead of covering a topic about what’s in front of your eyes, this blog asks you to listen in. At some point in their lives, most people will develop some degree of hearing loss. While this seems only a natural part of the aging process, there is also concern about a connection between hearing loss and the cognitive function of the brain.

How Risks of Untreated Hearing Loss affect Cognitive Function

Untreated hearing loss could very well lead to cognitive decline (or its better-known term – dementia). And this does not apply to a severe inability to hear. Mild hearing loss actually doubled a person’s risk of developing dementia. Moderate hearing loss tripled this risk, with severe loss equaling five times the possibility of eventually being diagnosed with dementia.

The three levels of hearing loss listed above – mild, moderate, severe – and their corresponding increased possibility of cognitive decline reveals a startling reality. Why and how does the loss of hearing, however gradual, correlate to dementia? Dr. Frank Lin, who oversaw the Johns Hopkins study, noted that hearing loss may contribute to atrophy developing quickly in the brain. Another reaction to hearing loss is a tendency for a person to become socially isolated – another strong connection to cognitive decline.

Those with mild hearing impairment (unable to hear whispering) are twice as likely to develop dementia compared with those with typical hearing. The risk increases threefold for those with moderate hearing loss (unable to hear talking), and five-fold for those with severe impairment (unable to hear a doorbell). Researchers believe the connection may be due to those with hearing loss straining to decode sounds, increasing the brain’s cognitive load.

Hearing loss is therefore much more serious than having trouble understanding what people are saying or needing to turn the volume up on the television set. As with annual physicals, dental visits – and, of course, vision exams – people should make it a priority to have their hearing checked regularly as they get older. How old is older? Anyone past the age of 60 should have his or her hearing checked on an annual basis, regardless of whether or not they are experiencing obvious symptoms. Additionally, people who either live or work in an environment where loud noises are common should also have their hearing checked, even if they are under 60 years of age.

Stay smart. Stay healthy. Get your hearing tested.

Even though we are SightMD, audiology and hearing are also a staple of our collection of services. If you or someone you love wish to learn more about hearing exams and evaluations, hearing consultations and fittings, or any other related matter, get in touch with us online or call 855.295.4144.