Taking care of your hearing and vision slows cognitive decline by 50-75%

A joint study from U.S. and U.K. universities shows promising results in reducing the rate of cognitive decline.

Pexels/Big Think
  • Decline in hearing and vision can add to overall mental decline.
  • Hearing aids can slow cognitive decline by 75 percent.
  • Similarly, cataract surgery can help cognitive decline by 50 percent.

Cognitive decline is something that happens to all of us as we age, to varying degrees. But new research is showing that taking care of your eyes and ears as you age could help keep your brain sharp for longer than previously thought.

The joint study from the University of Michigan in the U.S. and the University of Manchester in the U.K. found that by simply by wearing hearing aids, the rate of cognitive decline was reduced by 75 percent. The study was conducted on approximately 2,000 older Americans (as part of a wider study, the University of Michigan's Health & Retirement Study) whose hearing was measured every two years for 18 years.

The participants' cognition was measured using a range of tests, for example a word recall task of 10 words. One measure was taken directly after the words were read aloud, and another measure was taken after the participants were made to perform other small tasks (in order to distract them from the word-memorization). In people with hearing aids, the rate of decline was 75 percent slower than those without hearing aids.

The study shows hearing loss and cognitive decline are linked, and maintaining healthy hearing can keep you sharper for longer. Photo credit: Keith Bedford / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Likewise, cataract surgery can slow cognitive decline by 50 percent, according to a separate study performed by the same team as the hearing study. The study consisted of about 5,000 people in their sixties, with 2,068 of them receiving cataract surgery and 3,636 of them having no cataracts. In those who had cataract surgery, cognitive decline slowed down over the course of 13 years of follow-up testing. Their mental function became more equal to the control group, who had no cataracts. While decline is still expected as people age, this is promising in the fight against dementia.

At the conclusion of the study, the researchers highlighted that further research is needed to find out exactly what the link is between cataract surgery and potentially decreasing the risk of dementia:

"A positive impact of cataract surgery on cognitive decline would support the presence of a direct or indirect causal impact of visual impairment on cognitive aging. Further research may test the potential for treatment and/or prevention of vision impairment to lower the risk of dementia."

A 3D display screen of three-dimensional display system for cataract extraction surgery is seen at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine on July 17, 2018 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China.

Photo: Lin Yunlong/Zhejiang Daily Press Group/VCG

Take care of your eyes and ears as you age

The reason cognitive decline is affected by vision and hearing may be due to the nerve stimulation provided to the brain by those sensory inputs, which disappear as you age. These studies hint that stimulation can be returned through interventions like hearing aids and eye surgery. There may also be something psychological at play, as audiologist Dina Rollins notes to NPR:

"Social isolation is a huge part of hearing loss, and people will notice their loved ones withdrawing from conversation, or not going to family or social functions like they used to."

That social isolation can kick-start a hastening spiral of loneliness that fuels further cognitive decline. In fact, loneliness is a more accurate predictor of early death than obesity, so watch out for reclusive signs in your loved ones and yourself. There's also plenty of evidence to show that feeling old and resigning yourself to aging is what actually ages you prematurely.

The big takeaway from these companion studies? Get hearing aids as soon as you need them, and take care of your vision with regular checkups.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

The history of using the Insurrection Act against Americans

Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.

The army during riots in Washington, DC, after the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., April 1968.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
  • The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
  • The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
Keep reading Show less

Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

Scroll down to load more…