The Link Between Hearing Loss and Mild Cognitive Impairment

Research has shown that there is a relationship between hearing loss and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is the decline in memory and thinking skills that is usually worse than the typical cognitive decline associated with aging but less severe than dementia. It affects your ability to focus and multitask. 

Hearing loss has been identified as a potential risk factor for MCI. One theory is that hearing loss may lead to a reduction in social interaction, cognitive stimulation, and physical activity, which can contribute to cognitive decline. Another theory suggests that the brain may have to work harder to process auditory information when hearing is impaired, which may take resources away from other cognitive tasks. 

Recent studies have shown evidence of a link between hearing loss and MCI. For example, a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that older adults with hearing loss were more likely to develop MCI than those with normal hearing. Other studies have also shown that treating hearing loss with hearing aids may help to improve cognitive function and slow the progression of cognitive decline.

There are two classifications of MCI, Amnestic MCI and Nonamnestic MCI. Amnestic MCI has to do with memory, having difficulty in remembering things such as appointments or conversations. Nonamnestic MCI has to do with thinking skills, which affects abilities such as language, making sound decisions and visual perceptions. In addition, one article mentioned a research in Italy that examined the two types of age-related hearing loss, peripheral and central, and found that those with central hearing loss had a higher risk of mild cognitive impairment. Peripheral hearing loss refers to the ear structure, which includes the cochlea, middle ear, and the outer ear, whereas central hearing loss refers to the brain’s inability to process, comprehend, or understand the sounds heard. But MCI that affects your short term memory could be a sign of the early stages of Alzheimer’s due to the proteins in the brain. 

Symptoms of MCI vary from person to person. Some common signs of MCI include not being able to remember details from recent events, relying on notes to keep track of your schedule, struggling to keep up with your day-to-day tasks, difficulty in keeping organized, and uncertainty with directions and locations. Keep in mind that there are some myths about MCI out there and just because you suffer from some memory loss, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have MCI. The best thing you can do is make an appointment with your doctor if you’re experiencing some symptoms. You can also lower some of the risk factors of MCI by being proactive and making changes today. What are these risk factors? They are the same risk factors that come with age-related hearing loss (or presbycusis). This includes high cholesterol, high blood pressure, the use of tobacco, diabetes, obesity, and the lack of exercise. 

There’s still more research that needs to be done when it comes to understanding the risk factors of MCI, but practicing good habits of hearing and brain health are important.