Hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia according to a prospective analysis of more than 600 people free of cognitive decline. Of those studied, the risk of all-cause dementia rose 27% for every 10-decibel loss of hearing at the start of the almost 12-year study. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) rose in a similar fashion, but did not reach statistical significance. The study appears in the February issue of Archives of Neurology.
The findings support the idea that social isolation caused by deafness may be part of the cause of dementia. This may be particularly true as the association to dementia was only seen for deafness above the level at which verbal communication was impaired.
Over a five-year period from 1990 through 1994, 795 participants had both hearing and cognitive testing as part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Of these, the current study consisted of 639 people, ages 36 to 90, free of confirmed or suspected dementia.
The participant subset was followed until May 31, 2008, for a median of 11.9 years. During this time, researchers found 58 participants to be diagnosed with dementia from all causes, including 37 with AD. Most of the participants (456) had normal hearing at baseline with a mean age around 60, while 125 had mild hearing loss, 53 had moderate hearing loss, and six had severe deafness.
Interestingly, in the 15 years before the study period, those who developed dementia had an average yearly hearing loss that was nearly twice average for those who did not develop dementia.
Almost as fast as my recent blog on bilingualism and the benefit to the human brain was posted I read a research report that learning a third language can help to reduce risk of dementia. This research from the Public Center for Health in Luxembourg does suggest more languages equal a lower risk of cognitive impairment. The research was to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology in April
Seniors who practice foreign languages over their lifetime and have the ability to speak more than two languages demonstrate the cognitive protection. The research studied 230 people with average age of 73 and findings support the growing body of literature that describes cognitive reserve thought to be developed by engagement in the complex and novel.
Similar studies have shown the health promoting effects of language development and in this case development of more than two languages. In this particular study, participants who had spoken three languages were significantly more likely to be protected against cognitive impairment. Those with four languages were even better off in terms of cognitive health. Those with five or more languages had similar protection to mastering four languages.
We all might want to get started on our second, third, or fourth language today!
I have written and spoken many times about the concept of “brain reserve” which refers to the development of cellular connections that provide a type of synaptic density (like a jungle of connections in the brain) throughout the cortex. It is thought that brain reserve is a reflection of a healthy brain and further helps to delay onset of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
A new study indicates bilingualism is another avenue to building brain reserve and a potential delaying agent against dementia. Interestingly, language development has been a consistent and robust correlation of brain health and a protective factor. The development of a second language early in life has typically been the focus of study, however the development of a second language, even some parts of the language, appears to be beneficial from a health perspective.
The research from Toronto, Canada found that of the 450 Alzheimer’s patients studied (all with same level of impairment), those who were bilingual were diagnosed with the disease four to five years later than those who spoke but one language. The study results were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The scientists believe the learning of a new language helps to develop the executive system in the frontal lobe that might help to provide a buffer against the ravages of dementia.
Within a brain health lifestyle (see www.paulnussbaum.com), mental stimulation and exposure to the novel and complex are essential. This one pillar of my brain health lifestyle helps to build reserve. Language development, including a second language fits with this approach. The study also comes on the heels of another stud that found a correlation between deafness or reduced auditory input and risk of dementia. The possible factor in that relationship is the increased risk of isolation for the person and the brain if incoming information is not processed. Isolation has been established as a consistent factor with risk of dementia.
Language and language development is a critical behavior for brain health. Consider learning some parts of a new language including sign language as part of your proactive brain health lifestyle.
A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive that polled 2,100 adults found Alzheimer’s Disease to be the most feared disabling disease with 61% responding as such. 48% rated cancer the most feared while 32% said stroke, 18% heart disease and 8% diabetes. This is a finding that is consistent with other surveys of baby boomers who rate memory loss as a top concern.
We do not have a cure or even a prevention for AD, but research suggests lifestyle choices can help to promote brain health and perhaps delay onset of such neurodegenerative diseases. A proactive brain health lifestyle ® is suggested from the earliest of ages (see paulnussbaum.com). You can learn and apply behavioral change to areas of socialization, nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, and spirituality as part of your overall brain health lifestyle ®.
Dr. Nussbaum’s brain health lifestyle ® combines physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, spirituality, and nutrition into an integrated and comprehensive approach to maximizing the health and potential of your brain. While no single slice of the five part brain health pie is more important than the other, all should be considered and implemented into your daily life.
Recently, I started hot yoga as I included it as a recommendation to my pain patients and thought I needed to understand this activity better. After four or five sessions of hot yoga I believe it to be a healthy and cleansing type activity that includes aerobics and stretching with a focus on breathing. To this end, hot yoga encompasses at least three of the five major brain health lifestyle ® components: physical activity, spirituality, and socialization.
Personally I feel very good mentally and physically after hot yoga. I will likely make this a regular part of my lifestyle and pursuit of emotional and physical health. The activity is also a good one to try with your partner.
Give it a shot and see how you feel.