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Hearing loss is not a benign problem

In yet another reminder that the child is father to the man – so be very very careful millennials, OK? – a new study from the US National Institutes of Health shows quite clearly that even minimally impaired hearing in people in their younger years – that is, hearing that is considered normal for everyday use but is still lower than the maximum for that age – leads to more eventual cognitive decline in those people (compared to those with no impairment).

The usual disclaimer has to be inserted here: A study like this cannot determine cause and effect so perhaps people who develop hearing loss are predestined to have more cognitive decline.

But somehow I doubt that since a number of studies have shown that with advanced hearing loss, treating that level of hearing loss with hearing aids, slows down cognitive decline, so it’s much more likely that hearing loss leads directly to cognitive decline, either because of a social effect – hearing loss leads people to withdraw from social engagement much more than is true for people with normal hearing – or because of a direct effect on the brain – if one part of the brain is not working properly, it’s likely that other parts or functions of the brain will also be affected adversely.

Bottom line, according to Justin S. Golub, the main author of the study which was published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and I couldn’t put this better no matter how hard I worked at it, “. . . hearing loss is not benign. It has been linked to social isolation, depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Hearing loss should be treated. This study suggests the earlier, the better.”