Various studies have shown that an important factor in who gets dementia or early “cognitive decline” is an individual’s social involvement. Someone who is connected to other people, someone who gets out for activities such as visiting friends, going to a club, going out to movies with others, or even playing cards, has a diminished risk of developing dementia.
There seems to be a strong correlation: the more a person gets out and interacts with others, the less the chance of cognitive decline, and the more isolated and lonely a person feels, the higher the risk.
So it was not surprising that researchers led by Dr. Frank Lin of the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health (Baltimore, USA) carried out a study to see if there is a connection between hearing loss and brain functioning.
This study was carried out in older adults, but Dr. Arthur Wingfield, chairman of neurosciences at Brandeis University (Massachusetts, USA), has done similar research on young adults and said the findings of the Johns Hopkins study also apply to younger people as well.
Dr. Lin’s group began their study in 1997, starting out with nearly two thousand older people with an average age of 77 years. The people they selected all began the study with normal brain functioning (they all scored higher than 80 points on the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination). Then over an 11-year period, their mental status was re-checked every several years. On year five of the study, they did hearing tests on all the participants.
Amazingly, they found that the people who had at least a mild hearing loss (25 decibel loss=mild loss) developed cognitive problems 30 to 40% faster than those without hearing problems! And the worse the hearing, the faster the rate of mentai decline.
These results, while seemingly extreme, make sense. People who can’t hear, no matter their age, miss out on social interactions. Especially as you get older, your brain needs “exercise” just like your muscles, or your brain will atrophy, shrink. As we have presented previously in Mais Saúde, physical exercise greatly benefits your brain as you age, but also critical is interacting with other people. And if a person can’t hear well, over time many people get lazy (it takes a lot of effort to lip read), and they give up and withdraw more, the opposite of what older people really need.
What can help the situation is this: if you have any relative, or even you yourself, who you suspect has a hearing problem, take them to an otolaryngologist for an exam and a hearing test. If a hearing aid is recommended, it is certainly worth a try. Unlike glasses for vision problems, a hearing aid is often not a perfect remedy, but with a little time to adapt to the device, the aid can give lots of benefit and help bring an isolated person back into the social world again!
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