People often say, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This phrase certainly pertains to brain function. As with any part of the body, the brain can atrophy if it isn’t exercised. This causes issues like dementia to develop over time. The best cognitive workout is hearing, which may seem simple enough but actually involves various portions of the brain that influence our memories, perception, and communication.
Cognitive Implications of Hearing Loss
When hearing loss becomes a reality, the connection between our brains and our ears is often forgotten, but those with undiagnosed hearing loss increase their risk of physical complications or mental and emotional struggles. According to the Better Hearing Institute, “numerous studies link unmanaged hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including depression, impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, [and] increased risk to personal safety.”
One recent study by Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Aging tracked changes in the brain during the normal aging process and concluded that “those with impaired hearing lost more than an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared with those with normal hearing.” While conducting prior research on this link between hearing loss and dementia, Frank Robert Lin, MD, PhD of Johns Hopkins said, “A lot of people ignore hearing loss because it’s such a slow and insidious process as we age. Even if people feel as if they are not affected, we’re showing that it may well be a more serious problem.”
Resolving Dementia with Hearing Care
Hearing loss can also impact the lifestyles and relationships of those with dementia, influencing well-being and leaving loved ones to wonder whether communication and memory issues are due to dementia or hearing loss. Confusion surrounding dementia can worsen over time, but it is possible to break the cycle with hearing care by an audiologist. The American Academy of Audiology demonstrates the critical nature of hearing assessments through these research findings:
Peele and colleagues noted that “as hearing ability declines with age, interventions such as hearing aids should be considered, not only to improve hearing, but [also] to preserve the brain”… Chisolm et al (2007) previously reported that “hearing aid use improves adults’ health-related quality of life by reducing psychological, social, and emotional effects of sensorineural hearing loss, an insidious, potentially devastating chronic health condition if left unchecked.”
Further research shows that those who neglect treatment are prone to irritability, fatigue, avoidance, loneliness, distraction, impaired judgment, and a decline in overall health. Dr. Jessica Woods, AuD, CCC-A recommends hearing examinations every two years for general health, and annual testing should be conducted for those who are regularly exposed to high levels of noise or who have existing issues with hearing. Symptoms that could signify medical conditions are tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dizziness, loss of balance, a sudden decrease in auditory function, or hearing in one ear more clearly than the other.
Does someone you love struggle with dementia? Better hearing will make a difference in his or her life — and in yours too. Are you interested in learning more about how we can help? Subscribe to our blog or connect with us to see our emphasis on hearing loss prevention, care, and treatment firsthand.