Of course, you might think, older people get hearing loss and older people get dimentia, whats the big news?
The evidence these days seems to point towards age related hearing loss as being a real contributor in the processes leading to dementia. In ways that do not seem obvious.
As I reported in an earlier news item,’‘Untreated hearing loss can affect cognitive brain function, especially in older people and is associated with early onset of dementia.’‘
This has been reinforced by an article I read reporting a study by Anu Sharma, of the Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science at University of Colorado, to determine the ways the brain adapts to hearing loss, as well as the consequences of those changes. She was presenting her findings during the 169th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), being held May 2015 in Pittsburgh. Sharma and other researchers have recently discovered that other areas of the brain can recruit, or take over, areas in which hearing is normally processed, but which receive little or no stimulation in deafness. Her studies show that this not only happens in severe/profound hearing loss, but also happens with only a mild degree of age related hearing loss.
“The hearing areas of the brain shrink in age-related hearing loss, Centers of the brain that are typically used for higher-level decision-making are then activated in just hearing sounds.”
The group’s work suggests that the portion of the brain used for hearing can become reorganized, even in earliest stages of age-related hearing loss. And, “these compensatory changes increase the overall load on the brains of aging adults,” Sharma said. This finding has important clinical implications for developing early screening programs for hearing loss in adults.
“Compensatory brain reorganization secondary to hearing loss may also be a factor in explaining recent reports in the literature that show age-related hearing loss is significantly correlated with dementia,” Sharma said.
Further, the results suggest that age-related hearing loss must be taken seriously, even in its earliest stages. “One in three adults over the age of 60 has age-related hearing loss,” Sharma noted. “Given that even small degrees of hearing loss can cause secondary changes in the brain, hearing screenings for adults and intervention in the form of hearing aids should be considered much earlier to protect against reorganization of the brain.”
Every Hearing Professional will offer simple hearing screening, most will carry out this screening free of charge. It is a simple process of playing soft sounds in your ear and seeing how low you can hear. you can contact any of the professionals on our ‘Hearing Centres’ Page.
Brian Coffey is Managing Director of Acoustic Technologies Ltd., and is the Hearing Professional at Dublin Hearing Aid Centre, 67 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1.