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Our sense of hearing is incredibly valuable: it connects us to our friends, family, and the world around us. Many of us are not aware that hearing, in fact, happens in the brain. And because our brains all differ from one another, the way we experience hearing loss differs from individual to individual.
If you have an untreated hearing loss, chances are your hearing abilities have been diminishing for some time. Hearing loss, after all, tends to develop over a long period of time. As a result, our brains accommodate slowly diminishing hearing abilities and studies have found that this could deteriorate cognitive function.
The Brain and Hearing Loss
Researchers at the University of Colorado’s Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science have looked into neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s “ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning or experiences and how it affects the brain as we age.” Researchers have found that while the brain will rewire itself to accommodate a hearing loss, this could be detrimental to our normal cognitive function.
A similar study was conducted by Dr. Arthur Wingfield, a professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University. Dr. Wingfield found that “those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss had poor performances on cognitive tests compared to those who did not have hearing loss.”
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have published numerous studies on the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive function, and they have found similar results. Over a span of six years, participants with hearing loss repeated cognition tests, and researchers found that their cognitive abilities declined 30%-40% faster than those whose hearing was “normal.” Even more, researchers found that cognitive abilities for participants with hearing loss were affected three years earlier than participants with “normal” hearing.
Untreated Hearing Loss Affects Cognitive Function
These three studies point to one surprising link: untreated hearing loss affects your cognitive function. With untreated hearing loss, other areas of your brain that are relegated to unrelated functions may have to jump in to take over the part that normally processes hearing. It’s called “cross-modal cortical reorganization,” which means the brain has a tendency to compensate for hearing loss. With untreated hearing loss, your brain rewires itself and the parts that are necessary for higher level thinking compensate for the loss of hearing, it takes away from your ability to retain information.
Even more, this action has been found to stress your brain. Considered “cognitive overload,” this stress on your brain could lead to dementia, as well as a higher risk of Alzheimer’s earlier in life. Seeking treatment for hearing loss is one way you can protect your cognitive abilities.
The Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Conversely, if you have a loved one who appears to have a memory loss, it could be due to a hearing loss. People with untreated hearing loss tend to ask others to repeat themselves, and they may seem to have disjointed or confusing responses to questions or conversations. This is due, in part, to the difficulties of recognizing speech with untreated hearing loss. Furthermore, people with untreated hearing loss may be tiring out their brains unknowingly, which could lead to forgetfulness, issues with balance, struggles with productivity, and avoidance of social events.
While we do not want to downplay the very real and very alarming symptoms of memory loss, dementia, or early onset of Alzheimer’s, we do want to encourage people who have noticed these signs in their loved ones to gently bring up a discussion about hearing loss.
From the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), common signs of hearing loss include:
- Asking people to repeat what they say
- Struggling to follow the conversation in groups
- Thinking that others are mumbling
- Frequently turning up the volume on the TV or car radio
- Having difficulty on the phone
- Oversleeping because you didn’t hear your alarm clock
- Having difficulty hearing or understanding speech at the movies
- Avoiding noisy parties and restaurants
Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss with Lifestyle Hearing Solutions
Hearing aids have been proven to support brain function, by amplifying sounds and helping to clarify speech. Hearing aids are the most common and effective treatment for hearing loss, from mild to profound degrees. If you believe you, or a loved one, are struggling with hearing loss, contact us at Lifestyle Hearing Solutions today to schedule a consultation!