Hearing Loss and Dementia: How Struggling to Hear Can Affect the Brain
Hearing loss. We tend to look at it as something that just happens as we grow older: one more inconvenience of aging. But researchers have been uncovering information that suggests the health of our hearing has an important impact on the health of our brains. Among those findings: dementia is more likely to occur among people with hearing loss than among people whose hearing is normal. Here’s some of the evidence that has been reported:
Experts are pursuing a variety of avenues in trying to determine exactly why hearing loss and dementia are linked. One of the most widely investigated is the idea of increased “cognitive load” (i.e., demands on the brain) due to hearing loss.
While soundwaves are gathered and processed by our ears and the mechanisms of the inner ear, it is our brains that actually recognize all of that information as sound. If hearing loss dampens or damages that “sound data” the brain is required to put extra effort into deciphering it. That increased demand on the brain may take cognitive resources away from other important functions, such as working memory, which can open the door to dementia by overtaxing the brain in the long term.
It has also been shown that there is a link between brain health and hearing loss that has its roots in the social isolation. Such isolation develops when people withdraw from social contact because they’re embarrassed or frustrated by hearing loss. Social isolation can lead to cognitive decline by simply causing the brain to go unexercised.
While all of that seems to paint a bleak picture, not all of the research out there is gloomy. For instance, a study in France gave cochlear implants and auditory rehabilitation sessions to a group of 94 older people who were profoundly deaf in at least one ear. Better than 80 percent of the participants with the lowest cognitive scores at the outset of the study showed significant improvement a year later.
If the hopeful indications being noted by researchers keep coming, the hearing health world may be well on the way to major breakthroughs. We look forward to playing a vital role in holding off the onset of cognitive decline and dementia through the aggressive treatment of hearing loss.
Of course, there’s no reason to wait for dementia research to be completed before you have your hearing tested. If hearing loss is discovered, you can start acting on all that encouraging research right away. The effectiveness of hearing aids in making life happier for the people who use them is already well documented.
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