What is the Relationship Between Hearing Loss and Cognition?

We get many questions regarding the relationship between hearing loss and cognition. Hearing loss can have a major impact on the cognitive functions of anyone; young or old. It is important that the care givers of a loved one impacted by hearing loss be informed on how it could impact that person’s cognitive functions.

Let’s first discuss the meaning of “cognition”; according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, cognition is defined as “conscious mental activities: the activities of thinking, understanding, learning and remembering”. For young children this could impact their language development. For adults and seniors it has been linked to dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease.

hearing loss and cognition

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Function in Children

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association the earlier hearing loss happens in a child’s life, the greater impact it will have on the child’s cognitive development. They also say that the earlier hearing loss is detected and intervention is made, the lesser the ultimate impact.

Hearing loss can have many impacts on the cognitive functions of children (especially with language learning), some of which include; vocabulary, sentence structure, speaking, academic achievement and other social functions.

  • They learn concrete words (cat, jump, five, etc.) more easily than abstract words (before, after, equal to, etc.)
  • Most of the time they have problems understanding words with multiple meanings
  • Children with hearing loss understand and produce shorter and simpler sentences
  • Many children who experience hearing loss often cannot hear quiet speech sounds (“s”, “sh”, “f”, “t”, and “k”)

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Function in Adults and Seniors

Between 1990 and 2008, Dr. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D, participated in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging. Dr. Lin and his colleagues analyzed the relationship between hearing loss cognitive function in 639 people who were between the ages of 36 and 90 years old. It was found that people with mild, moderate and severe degrees of hearing loss were two to five times more likely to develop dementia over those with no hearing loss.

Another Study at Johns Hopkins revealed that “levels of declining brain function were directly related to the amount of hearing loss”. They discovered that (on average) “older adults with hearing loss developed a significant impairment in their cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than those with normal hearing.

For more information on the impact hearing loss has on cognitive function, read this article written by King Chung with hearingloss.org.