Hearing loss linked to faster brain shrinkage
Hearing loss may have greater consequences than people realize. A new study published in NeuroImage claims older adults who experience hearing loss have quicker and higher chances of shrinking brains.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University performed a study using 126 participants ages 56 to 86 over a 10-year period. Individuals underwent yearly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans, as well as physical tests for hearing, among others. At the start of the study, 71 participants experienced normal hearing levels, and 51 showed signs of hearing loss at a minimum of 25 decibels.
By studying the MRIs, the team noticed a pattern. Participants with impaired hearing had quicker brain shrinkage compared to those with normal hearing. How much more did their brains shrink? About an extra cubic centimeter of brain tissue per year. The brain areas most affected were the superior, middle and inferior temporal gyri—the areas responsible for processing speech and sound. Which, according to one researcher, makes sense since people with hearing impairment use speech and sound less; therefore, reducing stimulation to these parts of the brain. Without proper stimulation, the tissue will reduce in size.
These findings spotlight the need for hearing loss treatment early on and will hopefully help how doctors approach it.