One of the first studies designed to evaluate the impact of hearing loss on cognition was published by Dr. Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins University in 2013. The study, which tracked 639 patients over more than 12 years, found a five-fold increase in dementia for individuals with a severe hearing loss, a tripled risk for those with a moderate hearing loss, and a doubled risk for those with only a mild hearing loss.
Additional studies indicate that the risk of subjective cognitive decline was 30% higher among men with even just a mild hearing loss, compared with those with no hearing loss, while those with a moderate or severe hearing loss had a 42% to 54% higher risk of developing cognitive issues.
Untreated hearing loss increases the risk of dementia by 50%, depression by 40%, and continues to decline by up to 30% over a 10-year period.
Because many of the patients we see have put off having their hearing tested for up to 10 years after the first signs of hearing loss show up, Berkeley Hearing Center includes cognitive screening as one of our diagnostic tools during our hearing assessments.
How Is Hearing Loss Linked to Cognitive Decline and Dementia?
People with an untreated hearing loss have to concentrate harder, using contextual information, body language, and unconscious lip reading to make up for what they’re not getting auditorily, which can be taxing mentally, physically, and emotionally. Dr. Lin even postulates that “subconscious multitasking may interfere with some mental processing needed to walk safely.”
Typically, hearing loss begins to affect one’s ability to hear high pitched/high frequency sounds. Unfortunately, this impacts the most crucial frequency range for speech understanding, compounded by the fact that those sounds also happen to be among the softest speech sounds.
When speech becomes indistinct, background noise situations become untenable, and folks begin to disengage and stop participating in life. Social isolation and depression have been found to have a causal link to high blood pressure, elevated stress hormones, and weakened immune systems, but it also raises the risk of dementia by 40% and the odds of early death by 26%.
Audiology plays a key role in detecting early cognitive decline. Studies show that the use of hearing aids or other rehabilitation services for hearing loss may slow down the rapid progression of cognitive decline, and hearing aids are associated with the delayed diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, and injurious falls among older adults with a hearing loss.
Four Links Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
Common Risk Factors
Blood vessel narrowing, common in conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, is associated with hearing loss and an increased risk for decreased cognitive health.
Structural Changes to the Brain
Over time, as areas of the brain used for sound processing receive reduced auditory signals to process, they begin to atrophy or shrink because of the reduced/limited activity, causing actual structural changes in the brain.
When hearing loss is left untreated, other parts of the brain have to pitch in to help compensate for the reduced auditory input. The brain is forced to redirect resources, particularly those involved in thinking and memory, to help with speech understanding instead of other cognitive functions contributing to cognitive overload.
Avoidance of social events or skipping out on family gatherings are common among those with an untreated hearing loss due to the stress and discomfort of struggling to keep up with conversations in environments with a lot of background noise or where multiple people are speaking at the same time.
Cognitive Screening With Our Hearing Assessments
The slow onset of hearing loss can have a significant impact on several key brain functions, including the memory, hearing, speech, and language portions of cognition. The proactive management of modifiable risk factors such as hearing loss may delay or slow the onset or progression of cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to a full diagnostic hearing evaluation, a cognitive assessment test for adults is just one more important tool we’re using here at Berkeley Hearing Center to provide our patients and their families with the opportunity to live a richer, more independent lifestyle through personalized hearing healthcare.
We’ve incorporated Cognivue, an FDA approved computerized testing technology, as a cognitive screening test to make sure that we’re not only assessing hearing health but also brain health – because we don’t hear with our ears, we hear (and see, smell, taste, etc.) with our brains.
What Is Cognivue Screening?
Although research points to treating hearing loss with hearing aids as the single most important modifiable factor one can take to reduce the risks of cognitive decline, other factors undoubtedly can play a part as well. It is unclear whether hearing aids alone can reduce the risks of dementia, so cognitive screening is recommended as a double-pronged approach to maximizing outcomes.
Cognivue screening provides a personalized, consistent, and reliable assessment of overall brain health. The baseline scores established during your first cognitive screening test allow you and your healthcare providers to monitor and address changes as they develop.
Some features of Cognivue screening include:
- Quick Assessments (about 10 minutes)
- Interactive and intuitive
- Immediate results after testing
- Easy to understand results
- Secure and confidential
Unique software algorithms designed to use patient responses in order to adapt the test according to the patient’s performance help to improve testing accuracy by eliminating testing variability.
What Do Cognitive Screening Results Mean?
Your memory score reflects your capacity to retain information while processing the same or new information at the same time. This plays a critical role in sorting out complex sentences, following abstract thoughts, and comprehending speech when there is a lot of background noise.
This score indicates how effectively you use visual cues to process and interpret visual information. But it also relates to your capacity to process complex sentences and distinguish between speakers in a noisy environment by being able to identify where sound or a voice is coming from.
Executive Function Score
Your executive function score is an evaluation of how well you are able to coordinate and control higher order cognitive processes. Executive function guides your level of attentiveness, planning, problem solving, and more. These are skills that help you focus on a single speaker in a noisy environment or distinguish between multiple speakers talking at the same time and the ability to focus on speech while ignoring irrelevant distractions during a conversation.
This timed response demonstrates how quickly your brain coordinates between stimulus perception and response. Responding in an appropriate time frame when sound or speech signals dictate a quick reaction is a critical measurement of your cognitive function.
Processing speed is another timed measurement that reflects how long it takes you to mentally process a task and relates to your ability to follow rapid and/or complex conversations, especially those taking place in an environment with a significant amount of background noise.
Schedule a Cognitive Screening at Berkeley Hearing Center
Many of our patients have put off addressing their hearing loss for some time, and some of them have already begun experiencing some degree of cognitive decline by the time they come to us for a hearing assessment. Our team of audiologists at Berkeley Hearing Center makes use of Cognivue screening to provide a more complete assessment of the communication function of our patients by including cognitive screening in our hearing evaluations.
If decision making, organizing tasks, recall, a poor sense of direction, or other cognitive related issues are becoming a challenge for you or a loved one, then use the adjacent form to contact our hearing care professionals to schedule a diagnostic hearing evaluation with Cognivue cognitive screening.