Theories On The Hearing Loss And Cognitive Decline Connection

As we age, it is vital that we take care of our brain. A considerable amount of research finds that hearing loss impacts cognition, and there is a direct correlation between the level of uncorrected hearing loss and the risk of dementia. A Johns Hopkins study examined 600 volunteers over 20 years. At the start of the study, about a quarter of the participants had a hearing loss, but none had cognitive impairment. After the period, 10 percent of the hearing impaired participants had dementia. This percentage was double that of those who did not have problems hearing. This evidence leads researchers to consider if cognitive decline can be slowed or stopped by correcting hearing loss. Different theories offer attempts at understanding the relationship between sensory function and cognition in hopes of intervention.

The Theories

Hearing loss is an indicator of a cognitive decline in older adults. As such, an understanding between hearing and cognitive ability is crucial. The key to understanding the relationship is knowledge of the underlying mechanisms involved. A better understanding of these mechanisms will advance the development of interventions and treatment. A new research study is addressing the mechanisms that may directly affect the hearing loss and cognitive decline connection.

Cognitive Load Theory

The cognitive load is the amount of information processing effort a person must expend to perform a specific task. The load increases in areas of low speech because a significant cognitive effort is required to understand the speech. Because of this, there is a smaller amount of cognitive function available for other tasks.

Common Cause Theory

This theory assumes that a common age-related factor is responsible for both cognitive and sensory decline. A few of the possible factors include genetics, stria vascularis degeneration, neural degeneration in the peripheral and central nervous system, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.

Cascade Theory

According to this theory, hearing loss triggers a series of adverse events that ultimately end in cognitive decline. The argument is a use-it-or-lose-it idea that a sensory deficit reduces neural inputs to the brain leading to atrophy and finally cognitive decline.


The reason for an association between hearing loss and cognitive function is overdiagnosis according to this theory. Cognitive tests are verbal, and if a hearing-impaired individual can’t hear the instructions, they may receive lower test scores because they did not understand the instructions.

What You Can Do

More research will shed light on the connection between hearing and cognitive function. A relationship between hearing loss and cognitive deterioration exists in older adults, and this is why it is essential to schedule a hearing health evaluation with a hearing healthcare professional for a hearing evaluation. If you experience difficulty hearing, ringing in your ears, and sensitivity to sound, you may well have a hearing loss. A hearing healthcare professional can help you find treatment for your hearing loss and hopefully impede cognitive decline. Take action and schedule a hearing evaluation today with a provider in your area.


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