The connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline is making more and more headlines. Research studies continue to link the two and stress the importance of treating hearing loss with strategies such as hearing aids. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that this news only applies to older parents and grandparents dealing with age-related hearing loss. The fact is, at any age, your early hearing loss may be impacting your brain.
Hearing loss is happening early
According to the Hearing Health Foundation, an estimated 48 million Americans of all ages report trouble hearing. By age, this looks something like:
Almost 50% ages 75+
Nearly 33% between ages 65-74
Almost 15% between ages 45 and 64
8 million between ages 18 and 44
These startling numbers highlight the fact that anyone at any age can have hearing loss. Whether it is due to a genetic hearing loss, an underlying health condition or (the most common reason), noise, seeking treatment early isn’t just about hearing better. It’s about protecting your brain function and health now and for a lifetime.
Surprising research findings
Many studies are now exploring the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline and dementia in older adults. While the exact connection is still unknown, the link is hard to deny.
Recent research, published in eNeuro, is now bringing to light that even young adults with the slightest hearing loss may be undergoing the first signs of cognitive impairment. The study took 35 healthy young adults between the ages of 18 to 41 and monitored their brain activity while they listened to various sentences. What the researchers found was that areas of the brain that are often active in older adults when listening to speech, those areas linked to age-related brain plasticity, were also active in the young adults.
While the team stressed that more research is needed to determine if this brain activity indicated cognitive decline down the road, the findings certainly raise a red flag about the impact of early hearing loss.
What you can do right now
Hearing loss can affect anyone at any age, and if the numbers are any indication, it is happening earlier and earlier these days. It is more important than ever to take steps like these to protect your hearing now to prevent cognitive impairment and other health concerns in the future.
Get regular hearing evaluations Whether you believe you have hearing loss or not, whatever your age, schedule an annual hearing evaluation as you would a checkup with your doctor. This recent research indicates that changes are happening in your brain long before you realize you have a hearing loss.
Protect your hearing Carefully monitor the volume on devices to keep it within a healthy range and use protective gear such as noise-canceling headphones and earplugs to help reduce your noise exposure. Avoid noise exposure whenever possible.
The bottom line is that early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss are crucial to overall health and, experts now believe, brain health in particular.
If you haven’t yet, schedule a hearing evaluation today to determine if you have hearing loss. Remember that it can happen at any age and may be doing more damage than you think!