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A Reason to Listen

Posted Feb 05 2014 10:08pm

A number of studies present diverse health consequences associated with hearing loss, including increased risk of dementia, falls, hospitalizations, and diminished physical and mental health overall.  Frank Lin, from Johns Hopkins Medicine (Maryland, USA), and colleagues  analyzed data collected on  126 participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, who  underwent yearly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track brain changes for up to 10 years. Each also had complete physicals at the time of the first MRI in 1994, including hearing tests. At the starting point, 75 had normal hearing, and 51 had impaired hearing, with at least a 25-decibel loss.  After analyzing their MRIs over the following years, the researchers observed that those participants whose hearing was already impaired at the start of the sub-study had accelerated rates of brain atrophy, as compared to those with normal hearing. Overall, the team reports that those with impaired hearing lost more than an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared with those with normal hearing. Those with impaired hearing also had significantly more shrinkage in particular regions, including the superior, middle and inferior temporal gyri, brain structures responsible for processing sound and speech.  Writing that: “these findings demonstrate that peripheral hearing impairment is independently associated with accelerated brain atrophy in whole brain and regional volumes concentrated in the right temporal lobe,” the study authors urge that hearing loss be treated, rather than ignored.

F.R. Lin, L. Ferrucci, Y. An, J.O. Goh, Jimit Doshi, E.J. Metter, et al.  “Association of hearing impairment with brain volume changes in older adults.”  NeuroImage, 9 Jan. 2014.

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