Many people who develop dementia in Reno experience cerebral atrophy—also known as “brain shrinkage.” Your risk of cerebral atrophy is higher if you’ve got hearing loss. Here’s why.
The Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
Cerebral atrophy results from the loss of neurons and their connections with the brain. As dementia progresses, an increasing number of neural connections die off. Doctors use cerebral atrophy rates to accurately predict future cognitive impairment in their patients.
Multiple research studies over the years have confirmed a strong link between hearing loss and dementia. Because of this correlation, cerebral atrophy is present in many individuals suffering from hearing impairment.
Hearing loss affects an estimated 48 million Americans; that means about one out of every five people in Reno are afflicted with a hearing disorder. The older we get, the higher our risks; about one-third of seniors has hearing loss by the age of 65, and at 75, that figure is closer to 50 percent. Most hearing loss occurs gradually as the sensory cells of the cochlea become damaged over time, often as a result of noise exposure over the course of a person’s life. The death of these cells impacts the quality and quantity of neural connections, impacting important areas of the brain responsible for hearing, memory and cognition. People with hearing loss—especially when untreated—are two to five times more likely to experience dementia.
Dr. Frank Lin of Johns-Hopkins Medical Center has authored some of the most compelling studies to date. He and his colleagues have shown that hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive decline by as much as 500 percent, depending on the severity of the impairment. Due to the link between cerebral atrophy and dementia, studies have been conducted to learn whether individuals with hearing loss are likely to suffer from advanced brain shrinkage. Scientists relying on brain imaging techniques such as MRI have shown a direct connection between accelerated brain atrophy and reductions in neural volume affecting key areas including hearing, memory, and speech-language.
Can Cerebral Atrophy Be Prevented?
Your Reno audiologist believes that one-third of dementia cases are preventable. There is no cure for cerebral atrophy, but early detection and treatment of hearing loss will greatly improve your chances of avoiding dementia or reducing its severity. A baseline hearing test is recommended in adults in their twenties; changes in hearing ability can then be spotted through regular hearing screenings. Experts recommend hearing evaluations at least once every 5-10 years up until age 50, and then every three years beyond that. Those with a family history of hearing loss or other risk factors should have their hearing checked annually.