If you have had trouble with your ­memory lately, there may be a simple answer…and it’s not in your brain. 

More than 30% of elderly people have excessive or impacted cerumen, the technical term for earwax, that can block hearing and accelerate cognitive decline because of associated disconnection from community and loneliness. If you can’t hear, you can’t make memories or exercise your brain through communication. Unfortunately, few people—and even some doctors—think to check the ears when investigating a failing memory. Hearing loss also can worsen behaviors associated with dementia, such as distress and depression. 

Normally, earwax moves up and out on its own. It’s best not to interfere with this natural self-cleaning function. Even cotton swabs such as Q-tips can force the cerumen migrating out of the ear back into the canal. And the FDA has warned against ear candles due to risk for injury, such as burns, ear-canal blockages and perforations. 

Instead: Simply let new earwax form and push out the old on its own. If your ears feel full and sounds are muffled, place a few drops of mineral oil or commercially made drops into the ear to loosen wax. Or see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor or an audiologist to have the wax removed. It is an ­extremely common ENT procedure. 

Note: People who wear hearing aids are especially likely to accumulate earwax because the devices push wax down into the ear canal. Every day, use the pick and brush provided by your hearing professional to gently remove wax from the hearing aids. Wipe aids with a dry or slightly moistened cloth (with water only), and air-dry them overnight.