People in active retirement communities who experience hearing loss face a number of difficulties that can make daily life more challenging and increase risks to their well-being. New studies indicate that the very anatomy of the brain may, in fact, be linked to a person’s hearing as well.
According to data obtained by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University and published online in the scientific journal NeuroImage, people with hearing loss may be more likely to experience brain shrinkage at a rate faster than that of people whose hearing remains stable.
Hearing loss related to brain mass
The researchers compiled a participant pool of 126 randomly selected individuals between the ages of 56 and 86, and tracked their hearing capacity over the course of 10 years. At the same time, individuals participating in the study underwent annual MRIs to determine the size of their brain and measure any shrinkage that occurred. According to researchers, their data indicated a link between decreasing cranial mass and hearing loss.
Frank Lin, the study’s lead author, said shrinkage could be due to the brain’s tendency to exercise speech- and hearing-related areas less often as the auditory senses fade.
“Our results suggest that hearing loss could be another ‘hit’ on the brain in many ways,” Lin said. “If you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.”
Improving general health and hearing
According to the Seaside Courier, older adults who experience diminished hearing ability may benefit from using an aid such as a cochlear implant. In addition to improving people’s perception of the world around them, it can also help them retain engagement.
When people experience hearing loss, they often become less social due to embarrassment about the condition. Avoiding social interactions, however, can lead to further issues, such as feelings of loneliness or depression. Additionally, the Johns Hopkins study indicated that failing to exercise one’s senses could result in decreasing brain mass, subsequently affecting mental capacity.
People who experience hearing loss should speak with a physician about the possibility of having cochlear implants or undergoing other treatments that can help them retain both physical and mental well-being.