Is the Decline of Cognitive Abilities Caused by Hearing Loss?

The more I think about the Johns Hopkins study’s conclusion that “adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than older adults whose hearing is normal…” (“Hearing Loss Accelerates Brain Function Decline in Older Adults, January 23, 2013), the angrier and more skeptical I get.

Is This Study Hogwash?

I even looked at the mass of comments about this conclusion, and I am by far not the only one. One person – who is hard of hearing and not cognitively impaired – called it total hogwash.

I am a perfectly functioning over-seventy-year old, I know many other people in their sixties and seventies with hearing loss who seem just as cognitive as they were twenty-thirty years ago. So, I question exactly whom the 1,984 men and women who participated in the study from 1997 to 2007 were. Would they have become cognitively impaired whether they were hard of hearing or not during that time period?

The study suggested, “possible explanations for the cognitive slide include the ties between hearing loss and social isolation, with loneliness …as a risk factor for cognitive decline.”

I understand that suggestion, but I don’t agree with it.

When my mother was near the end of her life, she would sit like a lump while people in the group talked around her. She also claimed she couldn’t understand what was going on in movies we took her to. However, she responded very well during a one – to – one conversations either in person or on the telephone, and she could be the life of the party when the conversation was about her.

I suggest her communication difficulties were caused by some hearing loss, though I will never know for sure. To my knowledge she never got tested. But surely she did not have dementia. She played bridge and Scrabble almost to the day she died at age ninety-four.

I Have Hearing Loss

I decided to have a hearing test last fall for two reasons: my husband’s frustration when I couldn’t hear him speaking to me from the next room and my difficulty in hearing my fellow poets at a poetry workshop last summer. Although the tests show I still have considerable residual hearing, I do have enough hearing loss for my doctor to suggest I get a hearing device to raise my hearing level to normal. And I decided, why not? I got a hearing aid in September 2012, and though I don’t wear it when I’m home alone, I always wear it when I’m with others, either socially or at business meetings, and while watching television and at the theater and the movies.

Why Don’t People with Hearing Loss Get Hearing Aids?

According to the Hopkins study only fifteen percent of people with hearing loss get devices to help them hear normally. I don’t understand that. Is it stigma? Are people embarrassed to share that they are hard of hearing?

Possibly the main problem is the affordability of hearing aids. Yes, they are expensive, and most insurance companies don’t cover the cost. I am fortunate that my insurance will pay $1,000 a year toward my hearing aid expenses. I think, especially with studies out like the Hopkins study that declare the dire consequences of being hard of hearing, insurance companies should step up to the plate. Wouldn’t it cost the insurance companies a whole lot more to cover cognitively impaired people than to cover hearing aid equipment?

The Importance of Proper Hearing Tests

Another reason I question this study is this: even though the researchers have absolute certainty that hearing loss causes cognitive impairment, they do not know yet if hearing loss prevention would reduce that risk. So I suggest proper testing and wearing necessary hearing aid equipment are the keys.

In my case, the first time I was tested at my physician’s office in a regular exam room. She said the results showed I was fine. The next year I got tested in a soundproofed room with sophisticated equipment by a trained audiologist, and the results came out quite different.

So, if there is indeed the real possibility of my becoming demented as a result of my hearing loss, I’m glad I got properly tested and decided to purchase and wear a hearing aid. Hopefully that will allow me to stay socially active and stave off the risks, cited by the Hopkins researchers, that isolation portends.

Image: david shankbone




By Madeline Sharples| May 05, 2013
Categories:  Blog

About the Author

Madeline Sharples

Madeline Sharples

Madeline Sharples is a writer and regular contributor to Naturally Savvy. You can visit her at

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