Now, Hear This!

Did you know 1 in 3 people aged 65 to 74, have hearing loss? Now, experts believe hearing loss is a key indicator of impending dementia. New research from Yale and Italy found the correlation for the first time, suggesting the dynamic link between “auditory and cognitive processing”, and “greater dementia pathology.”

Additionally, researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary say age-related hearing loss is mainly caused by damage to the hair cells in our ears. That’s a major shift, given that prevailing wisdom in that hearing loss is caused by damage to the “cellular batteries” that power the hair cells mechanical to signal conversion of sounds. Say what?

Inside the ear, special cells transform sound induced vibrations into electrical signals that are relayed to the brain by the auditory nerve. When researchers studied 120 inner ears collected at autopsy, they say they found the degree and location of hair cell death predicted the severity and pattern of hearing loss. It’s an amazing revelation, given that inner ear hair cells are 200 times thinner than a human hair. It’s also amazing because until now, the prime model for hearing loss came from research on gerbils!

Doctors hope this discovery will lead them to create new therapies to regenerate missing hair cells, allowing millions of elderly people to hear again, without amplification. This could take 10 years to come to market, so until then, doctors urge you to protect your ears from prolonged exposure to noise at the levels of 85 decibels, like what you’d hear on a busy street. As you age, an annual hearing test is a good idea too. Many are free, or can be done using telehealth or smartphone apps.

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