Since hearing loss is a major concern for many Carolina Meadows residents, more than 60 people turned out for audiologist Nancy McKenna’s Lecture Hall presentation on Aging, Hearing, and Cognition. No one needed to be convinced that hearing loss increases with age or even that it has an effect on cognition. Of greater interest to the audience was learning what might be done to cope more effectively with the challenges that hearing loss presented.
They were not disappointed. Dr. McKenna, who is affiliated with the Division of Speech and Hearing at the UNC School of Medicine and also in private practice, gave an overview of what is known from research and practice followed by a list of measures that can be taken to ameliorate problems.
Hearing loss is the second most common chronic disorder after arthritis. About one-third of all adults between 65 and 75 experience measureable loss, and after age 75 the rate increases to 50 percent. Untreated, hearing loss can contribute to decreased quality of life, depression, cognitive difficulties, and dementia. Hearing aids, when appropriate and properly fitted, can lessen such problems.
Dr. McKenna drew laughter when she described research in which mice were fitted with ear plugs. The mice could run around and see one another but couldn’t hear sounds. When their auditory cortexes were examined, it was found that brain changes had occurred. The good news was that when the ear plugs were removed, the hearing areas of the brain recovered their functionality. Presumably, the same is true for humans. Hearing aids can help restore some lost cortical functioning.
However, it was stressed that hearing devices are not a panacea. Some cognitive loss is inevitable with aging. That loss can be lessened by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, engaging in social interaction, and keeping mentally active.
By Bill Powers