Want to protect your cognitive powers? One way—and possibly the best—is to avoid prolonged loud noises that can weaken your hearing. So argues Jane Brody at the New York Times, saying she hopes to influence the 38 million Americans with untreated hearing loss, herself included. "According to two huge recent studies," she writes, hearing loss "increases the risk of dementia, depression, falls and even cardiovascular diseases." Like millions of others, she has avoided getting a hearing aid, but the latest study shows that even slight hearing loss matters. Looking at 6,451 people age 50 and up, researchers found that losing the ability to hear a whisper can affect human cognition. That's a mere loss of the lowest 25 decibels.
An older study, published in 2017, found that "hearing loss is now known to be the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation," writes Brody. What's the link? When the brain works harder to process sound, it works harder to get the meaning, which keeps it from accomplishing other cognitive feats. But there's little chance of getting every American who can't hear a whisper to buy a hearing aid—which leaves what? Brody's suggestion: Anyone who's near loud, prolonged noise (like subway workers or music listeners) must protect their ears. For music fans, she suggests using noise-canceling headphones or earbuds to block out sound and make lower volume levels more audible. (Read more health stories.)