Vision and Hearing Loss Linked to Cognitive Decline
New research has found a potential link between poor cognitive abilities and hearing and vision loss problems. In a study published by the American Medical Journal, participants who suffered from vision loss also exhibited low cognitive skills such as poor memory and orientation.

Experts agree visual health plays a key role in helping the brain function properly.

 “Blurry vision equals blurry brain,” said Dr. Lynn Greenspan, optometrist at The Eye Institute. “With bad input, the brain doesn’t receive a complete picture and needs to work hard to fill in missing details.”

In a separate study conducted by the University of Michigan, researchers found participants with poor vision had a greater chance of developing dementia. Patients in the beginning stages of the disease often suffer mild cognitive impairment.

While dementia is progressive, speech-language pathologists use therapy to help patients preserve abilities, such as memory and reasoning, in the hope of slowing down the decline associated with the disorder. Dr. Kathleen Youse, chair of Salus University's Speech-Language Pathology Department says poor vision can reduce the success of such therapies.

“If a patient cannot visually see the task or hear and understand the therapist, his or her participation in therapy can be negatively impacted thus reducing success of therapy and possibly increasing the patient’s cognitive decline,” Dr. Youse said.

In the same way vision impacts how the brain functions, studies focused on the effects of hearing loss yielded similar results. Research from the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health found participants with hearing loss were more likely to experience a decline in cognitive functions such as memory and thinking skills.

Dr. Bre Myers,  audiologist at the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI), said these findings correlate with what audiologists see in many of the patients that come through PEI‘s doors.

“Increased cognitive load in those with hearing loss is evident in the clinic,” added Dr. Myers. “Because people with hearing loss cannot detect certain sounds, their brains have to work harder to fill in the blanks and try to figure out what is actually being said.”

While further research on the combined effects of hearing and vision loss is needed, studies like these show the importance of total patient care.

“Patients and clients clearly benefit when the whole person is considered and when care is delivered in a coordinated, integrated manner,” Dr. Linda Casser, PCO professor and coordinator of Interprofessional Education at Salus.
Experts strongly recommend regular visits to the doctor so any issues can be detected and treated early. Preventative care is key in reducing the risk of problems in the future.

Through our three clinical facilities—The Eye Institute,  Pennsylvania Ear Institute, and  Speech-Language Institute—we provide comprehensive evaluations, treatment plans and services to help improve the vision, hearing, and communication needs of our patients.

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