Hearing loss in older adults has been linked to accelerated brain function decline and dementia, according to a recent study by hearing experts at Johns Hopkins [i].

The John Hopkins study, conducted over six years in the United States, saw volunteers with hearing loss, undergo repeated cognition tests. Those with hearing loss had cognitive abilities that declined between 30 per cent and 40 per cent faster compared to those with normal hearing.

While the link between hearing impairment and cognitive decline is not fully understood, the researchers say the findings could lead to new ways to combat dementia – a condition that affects over 320,000 Australians [ii].

Dr John D’Arcy highlights the research to draw older Australians attention to the fact that hearing loss is an important health issue for them. “As hearing loss is a part of the natural ageing process and generally occurs gradually, it is often viewed as a minor problem,” Dr John said.

“People tend to put up with the problem or don’t believe their hearing is that bad, because it isn’t their top priority.”

“However, the Johns Hopkins research highlights the importance of maintaining good hearing health as it could have a serious consequence for brain function.”

Dr John likened hearing loss and cognitive decline to pulling a cover over a birdcage.

“A bird goes to sleep when the cage becomes dark and the brain starts to shut down when sensory stimulation like hearing is impaired.”

“Hearing loss can affect a person’s ability to communicate and if left untreated, can affect your ability to remain socially active, healthy and independent. As social isolation is also a risk linked to cognitive decline it is important that hearing loss be taken seriously. ” Dr John said.

“Studies like the John Hopkins research act as an important reminder for people to identify hearing problems as early as possible. It’s a good idea to include a hearing check as a part of your regular health regime.”

To encourage older adults to make their hearing a priority, Australian Hearing offers free hearing checks at its centres located across the country. To contact your nearest Australian Hearing centre, call 131 797.

Australian Hearing provides subsidised hearing care for eligible people, including pensioners and most veterans. For more information visit www.hearing.com.au

[i] Johns Hopkins Medicine: Hearing loss accelerates brain function decline in older adults

[ii] Alzheimer’s Australia: Understanding Dementia and Memory Loss