Sound Advice

How Untreated Hearing Loss Impacts Cognitive Function

Elderly Woman with Young Woman

With so many individuals experiencing hearing loss, there have been extensive studies to determine the effects this can have on other aspects of your health. From emotional impacts to a greater risk of dementia, untreated hearing loss has been shown to have a number of ramifications on your cognitive function.

Hearing loss and cognitive decline

In general, aging is one of the greatest risk factors that leads to decreased hearing and mild cognitive decline. Severe hearing loss is usually picked up at a routine appointment with an audiologist and it affects 40 percent of those over the age of 65. This increases to 80 percent for those over the age of 85 and has been linked to cognitive impairment and dementia. If you have had your hearing tested and your audiologist determines a hearing loss greater than 25 dB, this can affect your cognitive deterioration equivalent to seven years of aging.

The good news is that the link between hearing loss and cognition is considered to be something that is very treatable. If your hearing loss is treated by hearing aids or cochlear implants, this is something very simple that can improve cognitive decline. Only a small proportion of adults would benefit from hearing loss treatment are the ones that will seek help. It’s important to know that hearing has two main domains:

  • Peripheral hearing is the transmission of sound through the auditory periphery and this includes the sound encoding by the cochlear, middle ear and outer ear.
  • CPA – or central auditory processing – includes the brain stem, auditory cortex and midbrain.

Brain changes and hearing loss

There has been proven research that the brain – clever thing that it is – will reorganize itself when hearing fails. The brain shifts with even the slightest loss. Scans of the brain on those who have mild hearing loss showed that there is reorganization after as little as three months, and the other senses begin to take over. With deafness, the auditory area chooses other senses to use and the frontal lobe works harder when people with hearing loss hear sounds.

Hearing loss can have a major impact on cognition of anyone whether they are old or young. So, the ability to think, understand, learn and remember changes for those who have mild to severe hearing loss and for adults, it’s linked to dementia. Those who have mild, moderate or severe hearing loss are between two and five times more likely to develop dementia over those who have never suffered hearing loss. Adults who are in the elderly range develop significant cognitive impairment far sooner with those who can hear well.

It’s important to keep regular appointments with your audiologist so that you can see this coming. The more you test your eyes, the stronger your glasses will be. Your hearing is not something that you should ignore.


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