Insights presentation explores the impact of hearing and dental health on cognition

December 4, 2023

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — Risk factors like dental health and hearing loss may play a bigger role in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias than we may often think. That according to the latest talk of the Insights Speaker Series at the Institute for Social Research (ISR).

Ola Rostant, Ph.D., a research investigator at ISR’s Health and Retirement Study, presented her talk “A Sound Bite on Cognition: How Hearing and Dental Health Impact Cognitive Function” on Thursday, Nov. 16. Rostant argued that both hearing loss and tooth loss are underrepresented as potential risk factors when it comes to cognition and cognitive health.

Hearing loss, for instance, can contribute to degradation of inputs to the brain, which affects the brain’s ability to process information. In short, lower quality inputs lead to lower quality results. 

Hearing loss can also result in the overdiagnosis of disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

“Older adults are less likely to seek help for hearing difficulties or use hearing aids often or consistently. There will be times when people need a hearing aid, or they’re dealing with some sort of decrement in their hearing, and they’re being evaluated cognitively and they won’t ask for clarification, they won’t ask for amplification,” she said. “We then have an issue where there’s an artifact of hearing loss and not necessarily a cognitive decline.”

Dental health, specifically tooth loss and the associated difficulties with chewing, are also under-recognized risk factors for cognitive decline. Rostant believes that’s because a loss in tooth quality can lead to people having less access to nutritious food. 

“Tooth loss or tooth pain can lead to a decline in the quality of one’s diet resulting in poor nutrition,” she said. “Poor nutrition, in turn, has an impact on the central nervous system function, including cognition. Think of it as sort of an arc. Someone who has a poor diet predisposes them to things like obesity, obesity that exposes you to something like cardiovascular disease, which then increases your risk for Alzheimer’s and related dementias.”

For more information about the Insights Speaker Series at ISR, click here.

Ola Rostant’s full Insights talk is available below.

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