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Want to Keep Your Brain Sharp? Take Care of Your Eyes and Ears

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

You may not realize it, but how you take care of your hearing and vision now can make a huge impact on your risk of age-related dementia and cognitive decline later. For example, hearing loss, which usually occurs gradually, can isolate you from others without you even realizing it’s happening, and thus contribute to your mental decline.

The good news is researchers following 2,000 study subjects found that cognitive decline could be slowed by as much as 75 percent by simply getting a hearing aid, NPR said. Study authors said the key may be that stimulating ear nerves also stimulates your brain. Similar findings occurred with those who chose surgery for cataracts, a mostly age-related affliction that slowly takes away your eyesight.

Like the researchers in this study, I agree that this information adds to the givens of maintaining healthy lifestyle habits such as diet and physical activity. And, taking care of your brain is part of that. It may seem odd that eye and ear health are crucial to brain health, but as the featured article points out, they’re all intricately connected.

From the vision standpoint, it could be that poor vision makes it harder for people to engage in activities known to stimulate the brain, such as needlework or working puzzles, and thus isolate them from the outside world like hearing loss does. In fact, people with poor vision have been found to have a 63 percent greater risk of developing dementia.

There also is a link between vision and Alzheimer's, and that could have to do with the buildup of amyloid beta, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. The subsequent formation of brain plaque leads to progressive decline in cognitive and social functioning — and research has also linked amyloid beta deposition to neurodegeneration in the retina.

So, it makes sense to keep your annual vision appointments, or to make an appointment when you notice an unusual change in your vision, as that can indicate other diseases as well, such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and certain autoimmune diseases, to name a few.

When it comes to hearing, since we don’t normally have annual checkups for that, if you notice — or your friends or family notice, even when you don’t — that you are experiencing hearing loss, it’s best to have it checked. For more information on how to protect your hearing and what nutrients are important to preserving both hearing and vision, see my article, “How to Prevent Hearing Loss and Improve Your Hearing With Nutrition.”