Forgetfulness Could Be a Hearing Problem for Some

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
One type of hearing loss is associated with mental decline

A new study indicates why it may be important to have your memory tested when you have your hearing checked as you grow older.


Do you ever find yourself hearing what someone is saying, but it takes a bit of time to process the words and what was said? You are not alone as a new study reports that age-related hearing loss may be tied to what's going on with the brain as well.

Earlier studies have noted that hearing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, because it may have an association with unhealthy brain functioning. John Hopkins' researchers have found that aging adults with signs of hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering, than peer-age older adults whose hearing is normal.

Possible explanations for why this happens were posited to be due to ties between hearing loss and social isolation, with resulting loneliness leading to cognitive decline. Another possibility is that loss of hearing places a burden on the brain toward focusing on what is said at the moment, at the expense of processing and remembering later.

Uncorrected Hearing Loss Can Increase the Risk of Dementia and Depression

However, a new study explains that hearing loss can be of two types--peripheral hearing loss which refers to problems with the ear structures; and, central hearing loss that involves problems with processing information in the brain--of which central hearing loss could be associated with mental decline.

The study--recently presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 70th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles--involved 1,604 participants with an average age of 75 whose hearing and thinking and memory skills were tested for both peripheral and central hearing loss.

What the study found was that out of all the participants tested, a suggestive association may exist between having central hearing loss and cognitive decline:

--26 percent had peripheral hearing loss.

--12 percent had central hearing loss.

--33 percent were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.


--Those with central hearing loss were twice as likely to have mild cognitive impairment as people who had no hearing loss.

--Those with central hearing loss, 75 percent showed mild cognitive impairment.

--Those with no hearing loss, 60 percent had mild cognitive impairment.

--Those with peripheral hearing loss were no more likely to have mild cognitive impairment than people with no hearing problems.

A news release from the American Academy of Neurology's 70th Annual Meeting quotes the study's author's recommendation of hearing perception testing for older adults.

"These preliminary results suggest that central hearing loss may share the same progressive loss of functioning in brain cells that occurs in cognitive decline, rather than the sensory deprivation that happens with peripheral hearing loss," said study author Rodolfo Sardone AuD, EngD, MPh, at the National Institute of Health and University of Bari in Italy.

"It's a problem with perception. Tests of hearing perception should be given to people who are older than 65 and also to people with cognitive impairment," stated Dr. Sardone, who notes that the study does not prove that hearing problems cause memory loss--that it only shows an association between the two.

The findings of the study are intriguing and should serve as a warning to an aging adult population of which approximately one-third of people over age 65 will be affected with some hearing loss. Furthermore, other related research indicates that mental cognitive decline might be stopped or at least lessened the earlier an adult with hearing loss opts to seek help from an audiologist and be fitted with a hearing aid.

For more about hearing loss, here is an informative article on One Mineral That Stops Hearing Loss.

Reference: American Academy of Neurology's 70th Annual Meeting press release "Hearing loss may be tied to memory loss for some"

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