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Hearing Loss and Other Causes of Cognitive Impairment

It’s natural for mild cognitive impairment to set in as we age, but some people experience a quicker onset or more severe symptoms. One out of five people in Topeka has hearing loss; for these folks, the odds of cognitive decline are greater…but hearing loss isn’t the only factor that can hasten cognitive impairment.

Factors that Contribute to Cognitive Decline

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Cognitive impairment is defined as a decline in memory, language, thinking and judgment. It’s normal for older adults to experience symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), but some end up developing more serious cognitive illnesses, like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Hearing loss is one of the most common disorders associated with aging; about half of all people in Topeka experience hearing loss to some degree by the age of 75. It has long been assumed that age-related hearing loss was the main contributing factor to cognitive decline, and that patients with an impairment of 25 decibels (dB) or more were most at risk. But this number is arbitrary, and a research study from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has found that cognitive decline affects people with hearing loss earlier than previously believed. Researchers looked at data from 6,451 adults with an average age of 59 who were enrolled in two ethnically-diverse epidemiologic studies and given hearing and cognition tests. They learned that for every 10 dB decrease in hearing, there was a corresponding increase in rates of cognitive impairment…and the patients with the biggest decreases in cognitive ability were those with the most minor hearing loss, reductions of only 10 dB—much less than the previously-established threshold of 25 B.

Hearing Loss is Only One Disease That contributes to Cognitive Decline

Other factors include:

Prescription Drugs

Some medications include side effects that can interfere with brain function. Sedatives, tranquilizers and anti-cholinergic drugs are the drugs most likely to cause a decline in cognitive function.

Electrolyte Imbalance

An imbalance in blood chemistry can lead to confusion and cognitive impairment. Too much or too little sodium, calcium or glucose in the blood can negatively affect the brain. Electrolyte imbalances often occur in conjunction with kidney or liver disease.

Vitamin Deficiencies

A lack of vitamin B, especially B12, and folate has been linked to cognitive decline. Eating a healthy, balanced diet that features foods high in vitamins and minerals will help ensure you are receiving the necessary nutrients.

Mental Conditions

Stress, depression and anxiety all increase the risk of cognitive impairment. Be sure to get lots of exercise, learn to relax or meditate, socialize with others and give yourself occasional quiet time in nature to help improve your mood and foster a positive outlook for better mental health.

Neurodegenerative Conditions

Neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease harm the neurons that are responsible for cognition. These conditions usually start out with symptoms of mild cognitive impairment but gradually worsen over time. Seek medical attention as early as possible if you have signs of mental deterioration.


Some infections can produce cognitive impairment, especially pneumonia and urinary tract infections; while these may seem relatively minor, they may damage brain cells. Always make an appointment with a doctor if you’re experiencing an infection, even a mild one.

If you have more questions about cognitive impairment and hearing loss, contact a Topeka audiologist today.

Learn more about Hearing Loss


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