A recent study has found that hearing loss in older adults is linked to specific brain changes, increasing the risk of dementia. The research, which used hearing tests and MRI, identified microstructural differences in brain regions related to auditory processing, speech, and executive function in those with hearing impairment. Lead researcher Linda K. McEvoy highlights that these changes could result from the heightened cognitive effort required to process sounds. The study underscores the importance of hearing protection and early interventions for reducing dementia risk.
Key findings from the study:
– Hearing loss in older adults is associated with changes in brain areas responsible for sound processing and executive functions, potentially leading to a higher risk of dementia.
– The research suggests that the cognitive strain involved in understanding sounds may contribute to these brain changes, underscoring the need for interventions such as hearing aids and quiet environments.
– The study was part of a long-term investigation called the Rancho Bernardo Study of Health Aging and was supported by several institutes, including the National Institute on Aging and the American Federation for Aging Research.
Hearing loss affects over 60 percent of adults aged 70 and older in the United States and is connected to an elevated risk of dementia. To better grasp this relationship, a group of researchers from the University of California San Diego and Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute utilized hearing tests and MRI to examine whether hearing impairment is linked to brain differences in specific areas. According to the study, hearing impairment is linked to regionally specific brain changes, possibly due to sensory deprivation and the increased exertion required to comprehend auditory processing stimuli.
The findings of the study, published in the November 21, 2023 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, show that individuals with hearing impairment experienced microstructural differences in the auditory regions of the temporal lobe and in areas of the frontal cortex associated with speech, language processing, and executive function. According to principal investigator Linda K. McEvoy, Ph.D., changes in brain areas related to sound processing and attention, arising from cognitive effort to understand sounds, could lead to a higher risk of dementia.
The study, led by McEvoy and her team from UC San Diego in collaboration with the Rancho Bernardo Study of Health Aging, involved 130 participants who underwent hearing threshold tests and MRI scans. According to the results, hearing impairment is linked to specific brain changes due to sensory deprivation and the increased effort required to understand auditory processing stimuli.
In conclusion, the study highlights the importance of protecting one’s hearing by avoiding prolonged exposure to loud sounds and wearing hearing protection when using loud tools. Furthermore, reducing the use of ototoxic medications is recommended. The research also emphasizes the potential benefit of interventions such as the use of subtitles on television and movies, live captioning or speech-to-text apps, and visiting with people in quiet environments to protect the brain and reduce the risk of dementia. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the American Federation for Aging Research.