We know that as we age our brain becomes smaller but the results of a recent study from the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland now suggests that older adults who suffer from hearing loss are more likely to experience a higher level of brain shrinkage at a faster rate.
For the study, Dr. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues analyzed 126 participants aged between 56 and 86 years for up to a 10-year period. The study participants underwent yearly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans for their brain changes to be tracked plus physical examinations, including hearing tests. At this point, 71 participants had normal hearing, while 51 had impaired hearing with a minimum loss of 25 decibels. The participants with impaired hearing also lost at least an extra cubic centimeter more of brain tissue every year, compared with those who had normal hearing.
Address hearing loss ‘sooner rather than later’
Dr.Lin says it is not surprising that these particular brain structures were affected. He explains that because people with hearing loss tend to use speech and sound less, brain structures linked to these processes are more likely to shrink due to lack of stimulation.
He also says their findings emphasize the importance of treating hearing loss as early as possible, adding: “Our results suggest that hearing loss could be another ‘hit’ on the brain in many ways.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.” Dr. Lin and his colleagues say they plan to eventually examine whether treating hearing loss early can reduce the risk of associated health problems.