A doctor in the United States is getting ready to begin a trial to see if there is a link between hearing loss and dementia and mental decline The Guardian reports.
The study by Frank Lin will involve 60 people and will test his previous estimate that hearing loss contributes 36% to the risk of developing dementia. It follows on the work of Professor Jamie Desjardins from The University of Texas at El Paso who found that hearing aids improve brain function in people with hearing loss.
Dr Lin said “I’m asking how can our peripheral functions, namely hearing, affect our central functions – our brain,”. He continued “Unfortunately this question is completely unknown. This trial has never been done.”
The reasons for the belief that Dr Lin gives that there is a link are very similar to those of Prof. Desjardins’. Hearing loss tends to increase in older age and “the role of hearing loss has just not been studied” he said. When somebody has to strain to hear “a very garbled message through the ear” it can place undue pressure on certain parts of the brain while leaving others underutilised. Since the brain is affected by whatever we do (or do not do) this can lead to “cascading effects on brain structure and then brain function” Frank told Alan Yuhas.
This echoes Jamie Desjardins who said “If you have some hearing impairment and you’re not using hearing aids, maybe you can figure out what the person has said, but that comes with a cost. You may actually be using the majority of your cognitive resources – your brain power – in order to figure out that message.”
Hearing loss is becoming a growing problem as younger people turn up the volume through their headphones on their smartphones and laptops. The importance of studies like those of Frank Lin will become more important in showing how hearing aids are not merely hearing instruments but devices essential for overall health.
Previous research including that of Prof. Desjardins has suggested that hearing loss leads to certain parts of the brain being put under strain as people struggle to hear. This weakens working memory and can lead to those parts of the brain associated with memory and speech shrinking.
Dr Lin said “Treating hearing loss could potentially help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia”. More research is always welcome in this area and would add to the growing body of evidence suggesting treating hearing an effective way of tackling cognitive decline later in life.