Katherine Bouton: I think we now understand that hearing loss -- it’s not a cosmetic condition. Treating it isn’t like coloring your hair or getting a face-lift. It’s a medical condition. Treating it is actually good for your physical and your mental health
Dr. Frank R. Lin: But I think it’s literally just in the last five, six years now where people have begun studying that question--does hearing loss matter in older adults? And we’re just now beginning to understand, the last several years, though, that it’s incredibly impactful for things like cognitive decline. Our risk of dementia falls, even presenting hospitalizations -- that we’re seeing that hearing loss is linked with all of these outcomes very, very strongly. Even though it is a usual part of aging that it’s not without consequence. We think it’s a series of dominoes. And, I mean, the three big dominoes which we sort of hypothesize or guess at right now -- It’s a few of them. So one is that, when you have a hearing loss, right, it’s a little bit of a misnomer. It’s not so much you can’t hear. It’s that you can’t understand, and the reason for that is your ear is sending a much more garbled signal to your brain. So understand right now that one of the dominoes is that when you can’t hear well, that you’re constantly putting a load on the brain. The brain is constantly having to dedicate more brain power, per se, or more resources to constantly dealing with that degraded sound, right?
Katherine: And my own work became, you know, so distracted by the effort to hear what was going on in a meeting that I really didn’t have -- I didn’t have time to think about ideas and make contributions in a way that I had been able to earlier when I heard better.
Dr. Lin: At the same time, in many studies right now, we’re seeing that for people who even have a mild hearing loss that it leads to faster changes in terms of the brain structure, that you’re losing parts of the brain which handle sound, but then it has cascading effects on other parts of the brain, too, that handle things like memory and learning.
Male narrator: In one study, adults with mild hearing loss were two times more likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss. Adults with severe hearing loss were five times more likely. It’s true. If you can’t hear what’s going on, your brain gets smaller, leading to depression, isolation, and even a measurable drop in your IQ.
Dr. Lin: I find the third domino, like you mentioned before, is the idea of social isolation, that if you can’t hear well, that for many people just subtly, you’re less likely to want to go out and socialize with your friends.
Katherine: One of the things that happens when you have hearing loss as it gets worse and worse is that it gets very effortful to go out and, you know, be part of life. People tend to withdraw.
Dr. Lin: And those subtle effects of social disengagement we know now are incredibly meaningful for maintaining our cognitive, even our physical functional health as we age. So we think that those are actually the three mechanistic pathways to which hearing loss can directly lead to adverse health outcomes as we age.