Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Associates in Hearing

Did you know that the brain is where hearing takes place? As sound waves move from our outer ear to our middle ear to our inner ear, they are changed into electrical signals by tiny hair cells. The auditory cortex in our brains receives and processes these signals. When hearing loss isn’t treated, the nerve pathways that send these electric signals stop working. So, when hearing loss isn’t treated, our brains try to fill in the gaps, which may cause a more significant cognitive load that makes it hard for brain functions to work.

Studies done at the University of Texas at El Paso show that hearing aids make the brain work better. In a study by Dr. Jamie Desjardins, an assistant professor in the speech-language pathology program at U of T, people with hearing loss who used hearing aids had a much better cognitive function. This supports the results of other Johns Hopkins studies that found a possible link between untreated hearing loss and a higher risk of dementia.

Find out how hearing aids can help your brain work better.

Untreated hearing loss and your brain

When hearing loss isn’t treated, the brain has a hard time making sense of sounds that aren’t clear. It may get tired as the brain tries to fill in the gaps left by muffled sounds and slurred speech. Think about someone who has hearing loss but still works and doesn’t wear hearing aids. They spend so much of their mental energy just trying to listen. They might not be as good at what they do. Or, if they can, they are tired from working so much harder. They are much more tired at the end of the day because their work is much more complex. It changes the way they live.

Researchers have found possible links between untreated hearing loss and dementia in the past few years. In a study of 639 people done at Johns Hopkins, those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to get dementia in the next 12 to 18 years. The auditory system works with different brain parts to take in and make sense of sound waves from the outside world. Our brains stay in shape by responding to sounds with reflexes, recognition, and feelings. If you don’t treat hearing loss, these channels may get less clear, and some parts of your brain may not be as active as they used to be.

Hearing loss that isn’t treated can hurt a person’s physical and emotional health, making them more likely to get dementia. Frank Lin from Johns Hopkins says that hearing loss affects the brain in three main ways:

  • Cognitive load (when it’s hard to hear, the brain has to work harder).
  • Changes in the structure and function of the brain.
  • Less interaction with other people.

Hearing loss could make a person more likely to get dementia if it isn’t treated. Hearing loss is a problem because it makes it hard to talk to people, especially in louder social situations. So, if hearing loss isn’t treated, people may be less likely to go to social events and do other things. Our brains stay active because of these things. This backs up what research has found about dementia: people who are more social and stay involved with the world around them are less likely to get dementia.

How hearing aids make your brain work better

Dr. Desjardins chose a group of people in their 50s and 60s with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss who had never used hearing aids before for her study. It’s important to note that Dr. Desjardins focused on sensorineural hearing loss, which happens when hair cells in the inner ear can’t turn sound waves into neural signals that the brain can understand.

Before and after using hearing aids, the people in the study took a series of cognitive tests that measured their memory, selective attention, and processing speed. After two weeks of using hearing aids, people got better at remembering words and could do things faster. At the end of the study, the participants’ cognitive abilities were much better than they were at the start.

Hearing aids make sounds louder and more transparent so we can hear them better in our daily lives. Hearing aids help us recognize speech and determine where sounds come from in our environment. This keeps our brains active and aware of what’s happening around us. Also, hearing aids ensure we don’t lose touch with our friends and family or stop doing the things we love that keep our brains active.

Hearing aids are used to treat hearing loss.

If your hearing has changed, there’s no reason to live with hearing loss without getting help. There are so many good reasons to get help! Hearing aids are a straightforward way to improve cognitive function and overall quality of life.