Theories Surrounding The Link Between Hearing Health and Cognition

As we age, our senses naturally decline. Many of us let this decline go untreated, particularly in the area of hearing. But, what all of us may not know is that tied to hearing loss is cognitive impairment that occurs slowly over a long period. The underlying reason behind cognition and hearing loss has not yet been determined. But researchers have been working hard to figure out why.

There are some prevalent theories that serve as the foundation for future studies attempting to uncover the cause of cognitive decline in the light of prolonged hearing loss. Here is a summary of the most prominent theories.

Common Cause Theory

This theory argues that the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline is a matter of common occurrence rather than a causal situation. Common cause assumes that age causes a simultaneous decline in sensory systems and cognition. Common conditions include genetics, vascular degeneration, neural problems in the central and peripheral nervous systems, and general health decline. Hearing loss does not cause cognitive decline, rather it may be an indicator that it is present since nearly all systems are affected by old age.

Harbinger Theory

Harbinger theory, also known as Overdiagnosis, argues that cognitive decline is mis- or overdiagnosed due to the nature of the tests. Many cognitive tests are verbally administrated. Individuals with untreated hearing loss may not provide accurate responses due to their decreased ability to understand the test.

Cognitive Load Theory

This theory suggests that in attempting to focus more on what’s being said an individual’s mind is overloaded on the primary task (hearing) and less energy is devoted to secondary tasks. Over time, this negligence of secondary tasks causes cognitive degeneration of the brain.

Cascade Theory

Cascade Theory proposes that a series of negative events comes as a natural consequence to hearing loss. Hearing loss causes increased difficulty in communication. This difficulty has an impact on the level of socialization the individual subsequently experiences. Reduced socialization and isolation results in increased psychosocial difficulties and other health problems. The final result is cognitive decline.

Theory Soundness

Studies testing the validities of the above theories do not provide a clear indication of any one prevailing theory. The weakest of the four theories is the Overdiagnosis theory. While many people can experience misdiagnosis because of unclear communication due to hearing loss, this theory does not explain the link between all individuals experiencing both cognitive decline and hearing loss.

The Importance Of Hearing Health

There have been many studies however that support all three other theories. No matter what theory prevails, the importance of adequate and appropriate hearing healthcare cannot be understated. Hearing loss that is properly treated with the use of hearing aids or other assistive listening devices can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life especially in terms of staving off depression, isolation, and cognitive decline. If you have more questions about the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, please contact our office today to speak to a hearing healthcare professional.

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