Sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing – your five senses are what allow you to experience the world around you and all that it has to offer. But did you know that the latest research shows maintaining these senses is key to healthy aging?
A recent panel discussion hosted by HearingLife and the Alzheimer’s Association featured several experts discussing the latest research on cognition and aging and emphasized the importance of working with your healthcare providers to address all aspects of your health as you age.
“When you’re older, you’re managing multiple health issues at once,” explained Dr. Mary Sano, who directs Alzheimer’s research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Mitigating hearing loss is really important because the improvement in cognition that one might get from hearing stimulation may be twofold – it could be that allowing us better access to information through hearing maximizes our cognitive ability, but it could also be that improved hearing allows you to have a better neuro-regenerative process,” she explains.
That’s what Dr. Sano and her team are studying – how better hearing may actually impact the brain and cognition beyond just being able to hear information better.
Dr. Snyder, vice president of Medical and Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, explains, “We know there is a relationship between hearing, vision, smell – and memory,” she says. “We don’t know the exact mechanism in the brain for why.”
Dr. Snyder went on to explain that several studies have shown links between hearing and cognition, including one that linked lower cognition scores with having lower levels of the five senses. Another showed that having hearing loss in midlife was associated with brain changes later in life.
“Even without knowing the underlying mechanism for why, it just makes sense that maximizing our sensory input is important to maximizing our cognitive health and our life,” said Dr. Sano, who also emphasized the importance of socializing for mental health as we age.
Action steps you can take to stay healthy as you age
“It is really important to emphasize that there are things we can do about hearing loss,” said Dr. Sano. “Hesitation may occur – somebody might be worried about hearing aids making them seem old, but nothing’s worse than not being able to interact with others,” she said.
Dr. Sano also emphasized that if there is cognitive impairment, hearing becomes even more important. She explained that without being able to hear fully, cognition scores often aren’t accurate.
“We do know that physical activity and staying active are important for overall quality of life as we age, so it’s important to stay on top of your physicals and have conversations with your doctor,” Dr. Snyder advises. “If you think there’s a problem with your vision, hearing or memory, talk to your healthcare provider.”
Dr. Leslie Soiles, Chief Audiologist at HearingLife, echoed this advice and added that it’s important to protect the hearing you do have.
“If you’re in a high-noise environment, around power tools, motorcycles or machinery, wear your hearing protection,” Dr. Soiles says. “You should also only wear headphones for listening to music for 60 minutes at a time at 60% of maximum volume.”
At HearingLife, we recommend getting a hearing assessment around age 55, or sooner if you or a loved one notices the signs of hearing loss. Even if you aren’t having trouble yet, getting a baseline measurement is a good idea – and checking your hearing regularly will ensure you stay on top of any loss that does happen.
“On average, it takes 7 years for someone to get a hearing test after they start having trouble hearing,” says Dr. Soiles. “Don’t let it take you that long! Hearing loss sneaks up slowly and the sooner you address it, the better. I didn’t get hearing aids for my lifelong hearing loss until my 20s and it was life-changing – that’s why I am extremely passionate about hearing healthcare.”