The medical community has known for some time that the brain shrinks as a person ages. What is interesting, though, is a recent finding through a Johns Hopkins study that has shown a definitive link between those with hearing loss and an increased rate of brain shrinkage, or brain atrophy. Yes, there are many reasons to keep up with your hearing health, as it affects many areas of your body. However, its effects in the brain are especially intriguing, as the consequences of hearing loss have far-reaching implications in the command center of our bodies: the brain. We discuss this study in detail and present reasons why it’s more important than ever to take care of your ears.
Rate of Brain Atrophy Linked with Hearing Loss
Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging both conducted this study in which 126 people were observed over a span of 20 years. They received MRIs and complete physicals annually, with the results showing a connection between hearing loss and the rate of brain atrophy. Scientists and doctors have known for many years that as people progress into their senior years, their brains shrink and can actually lead to conditions like dementia. What they learned in this study, however, was that the brains of individuals who had hearing impairments suffered a faster rate of shrinkage than others with no hearing loss symptoms. This places them in a high-risk category for an accelerate rate of brain atrophy, leaving them vulnerable to cognitive disorders.
Researchers also explained the reasoning behind this finding. Interestingly, when a part of the brain undergoes some kind of damage, such as with hearing loss, it compensates with further damage to the gray matter. Those leading the study found that this can bring about losses throughout the brain, resulting in the largely decreased brain sizes that they noted. Their recommendation, then, is that people – especially those with existing hearing loss – be ever more vigilant in caring for their overall hearing health to guard against these occurrences as much as possible.
What to Do
If you think your hearing has nothing to do with other areas of your health, think again. By protecting your hearing health now, you can curb further brain atrophy related to hearing loss. Those with existing hearing impairments should continue to see their doctors every year at least to check for any recurring or new problems. Even those with no history of hearing loss should have their hearing tested annually because, as noted above, it’s well known that hearing health declines in old age.
This doesn’t mean young people can’t suffer from hearing loss. They, too, can fall victim. No matter how old you are, from children on up to seniors, Johns Hopkins recommends heading to the doctor’s regularly for checkups. Staying on top of your hearing health can mean the difference between a sharp mind and lessening mental capacity as you get older.