Cognitive decline is a normal part of aging, but there is often an underlying factor that causes it to occur more quickly or produces symptoms that are more severe. For the 20 percent of patients in Houston with hearing loss, the odds of cognitive impairment are higher—but these folks aren’t the only ones who should be on guard.
What is Cognitive Impairment?
Cognitive impairment refers to a decline in memory, language, thinking and judgment. Mild impairment is common in older adults, while some individuals go on to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, more serious cognitive diseases.
How common is hearing loss?
There is no denying that age-related hearing loss is one of the most common health disorders associated with the aging process. Around half of all people in Houston have some degree of hearing loss by the age of 75, but few seek treatment.
Can mild hearing loss cause cognitive decline?
A new study out of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has found that rates of cognitive decline experienced by people with hearing loss occur earlier than previously believed.
What did research show before the study?
Cognitive impairment was long believed to affect adults with age-related hearing loss resulting in at least a 25-decibel (dB) reduction in hearing ability, but the Columbia University researchers have learned otherwise.
What did the researcher’s find?
The research team at Columbia studied data from 6,451 adults (average age: 59) enrolled in two ethnically-diverse epidemiologic studies who had been administered hearing and cognitive tests. Their results showed that every 10 dB decrease in hearing correlated to a marked decrease in cognitive ability.
When was hearing loss most damaging to patients?
Surprisingly, the most significant decreases were noted noted in those patients whose hearing loss was the most minor (only a 10 dB reduction, far off the previously-established mark of 25 dB experts had long used as a measuring stick).
What else contributes to cognitive decline?
Hearing loss, of course, isn’t the only condition associated with cognitive decline. Some other common ones include:
- Prescription drugs. Medications rarely come without side effects, and some of those can interfere with brain function. Sedatives, tranquilizers and anti-cholinergic drugs are most likely to produce a decline in cognitive function.
- Electrolyte imbalance. An imbalance in blood chemistry can cause confusion and cognitive impairment. If your body has too much (or not enough) sodium, calcium or glucose in the blood, your brain can be affected. Kidney and liver diseases are often associated with this electrolyte imbalances.
- Vitamin deficiencies. Too little vitamin B (especially B12) and folate has been linked to cognitive decline over a period of time. To ensure your body is receiving the proper nutrients it needs, eat a healthy, balanced diet and include foods high in vitamins and minerals.
- Mental conditions. People who experience stress, depression and anxiety have a higher risk of developing cognitive impairment. Focus on the positives in life, get plenty of exercise, learn to relax or meditate, socialize with others and carve out some quiet time in nature in order to boost your mood and improve your mental health.
- Neurodegenerative conditions. Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease damage and eventually destroy neurons responsible for cognition. These conditions often begin with mild cognitive impairment but gradually advance to more severe dementia. It’s important to seek treatment at the first sign of mental decline.
- Infections. Certain infections can lead to cognitive decline—even seemingly innocuous cases of pneumonia or urinary tract infections can damage brain cells, especially in older adults. You should seek medical attention for any infection, no matter how mild it seems.
Your Houston ear, nose and throat specialist can answer more questions about cognitive decline and the conditions that cause it. Give them a call if you’d like more information!
Learn how to detect and prevent hearing loss:
- Are Earbuds Damaging Your Hearing?
- Using Your Smartphone to Diagnose Hearing Loss
- Look at Your Ears for Clues to Your Health
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