Good hearing helps “cognitive super-agers”

Photo credit: Diabetes Care licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Although fewer than 1% of Americans reach the age of 100, Jane Brody, the New York Times, writes that recent findings show that individuals who reach that age with their mental abilities functioning well should expect that they will continue to do well mentally for their remaining years. And this is despite the fact that their brains contain markers that are identified with Alzheimer’s disease.

The explanation for why brains that should have led to cognitive decline did not in certain older people was that these people had resilience, according to Dr. Thomas T. Perls, a geriatrician at Boston University. Dr. Yaakov Stern, a neuropsychologist at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, adds that resilient individuals have a cognitive reserve that enables them to deal with pathological changes in their brains. Thus, Alzheimer’s Disease need not be viewed as an expectation when one grows considerably older.

So then how does one develop “resilience.” Studies have revealed the following characteristics:

Obtaining a higher level and better quality education; choosing occupations that deal with complex facts and data; consuming a Mediterranean-style diet; engaging in leisure activities; socializing with other people; and exercising regularly.

Dr. Perls also adds that engaging in activities that are cognitively new and challenging is also beneficial

Then we learn towards the end of the article that it is “important to maintain good hearing.” Dr. Perls who wears a hearing aid states, “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for people to optimize their ability to hear. There is a direct connection between hearing and preserving cognitive function.”  Dr. Perls adds that “hearing loss results in cognitive loss because you miss so much. You lose touch with your environment.”

Good vision is seen as important as well and Dr. Perls concludes by saying that the brain-challenging activity he has taken on is birding which depends on both good hearing and good vision.

Advocates for a less noisy and quieter environment can now add that loud sounds and noise that adversely impact our hearing can also jeopardize our cognitive ability, depriving us of functioning more effectively in our later years.

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