In one study (Arch Otolaryngology 2011), he studied 639 individuals (ages 36-90 with no history of memory problems) and followed them for 6 years. He discovered that compared to individuals with normal hearing, those with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had a 2, 3 and 5 fold increased risk of developing dementia over the course of the study. This correlation held up even when he controlled for diabetes, hypertension and age.
In a separate study, he followed a cohort of 1984 patients for 18 years. He discovered that those with hearing loss demonstrated a 30-40% quicker loss of thinking and memory function compared to those with normal hearing.
Dr. Lin postulates that there are three potential explanations for this observation. Hearing loss can produce social isolation, depression/anxiety and heightened cognitive load. Fortunately, social isolation and depression represent treatable conditions which once recognized can lead to an improvement in thinking and memory. The heightened cognitive load is analogous to the exhausted feeling one might have if they try to read a book without using their reading glasses. The brain has to work so hard to fill in the missing words that the ears did not hear that it cannot function at its optimal level. In fact, many refer to hearing aids as ‘the reading glasses for the ear’.