Image of Senior man plying guitar outdoorsMore research is showing a strong connection between hearing loss and dementia.

The Hearing Loss Association of America states that more than 48 million Americans experience hearing loss. One possible upside of this ear-brain connection is the hope that treating hearing loss more aggressively could help in the fight against dementia.

Although the exact cause of this correlation is unknown, some researchers believe there is a common pathology that causes both conditions.

Other theories argue that the strain of difficulty hearing over time can leave someone more susceptible to dementia, that hearing loss accelerates brain shrinkage or social isolation caused by hearing loss could lead to cognitive disorders.

Studying the Link

A 2011 study indicated that those with mild to severe hearing loss were two to five times more likely to acquire dementia. This research, conducted by Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, studied nearly 650 people who were in good cognitive condition when the study began.

The participants’ mental abilities were checked regularly for at least 12 years. Researchers found that those with mild to severe hearing loss were two to five times more likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing.

A 2013 study by Lin observed the mental sharpness of nearly 2,000 older adults over a period of six years. The results showed that those with hearing loss experienced up to 40 percent accelerated cognitive decline, increasing their risk for developing dementia.

Possible Solutions

Cochlear implants have been shown to improve speech perception and cognitive function in older adults, according to a study released by the JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

The study provided nearly 100 people ages 65 to 85 with severe hearing loss a cochlear implant and auditory rehabilitation services. More than 80 percent of participants with the lowest cognitive scores showed vast improvement one year later.

Because of its impact on the brain, music therapy is also being considered as a way to help brain function in people with memory loss.