Everyone knows that the ability to hear, though accomplished by your ears, ultimately begins in the brain. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that the health of your hearing and the health of your brain are connected. Unfortunately, this also means that hearing loss has a detrimental effect on the brain - specifically, contributing to cognitive decline as we age.
At Hearing Unlimited, we want to educate our patients on exactly how this correlation works, helping them understand the importance of hearing loss prevention and early treatment. Here are four things we want you to know about how hearing loss can lead to a loss of cognitive function:
Your Brain is Like a Muscle
While the brain is not technically a muscle, it may be helpful to think of it in those terms when describing how hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline. Like a muscle, parts of your brain need exercise, and they will deteriorate with disuse. In the case of hearing loss, your auditory cortex, which performs a wide variety of vital hearing functions, becomes stronger as you use your hearing. When hearing loss sets in, you lose the opportunity to exercise this portion of your brain, resulting in a gradual decline of cognitive function.
Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting your brain from cognitive decline, not all sound is created equal. According to Journal for the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, “Reduced hearing stimulation, particularly high frequency, is associated with changed brain structure and reduced gray matter (brain) volumes in key sensory areas such as the auditory cortex.” Essentially, losing the ability to hear high-frequency noise - one of the most common forms of hearing loss - is particularly detrimental to your cognitive function.
Your Brain Needs Balance
We’ve discussed in previous blogs how vision and hearing are both indicators of a healthy (or unhealthy) brain, and the risk dual sensory loss poses to your cognitive ability as you age. Further research suggests an additional risk in relation to vision loss: when your sensory abilities are imbalanced, your brain struggles to allocate its resources and compensate for whichever sense is lacking. If you’re struggling with hearing loss, your brain will work harder to compensate for your hearing, potentially having an impact on your vision and ultimately your cognitive function as a whole.
Time is of the Essence
The fact that high-frequency hearing loss leads to quicker cognitive decline makes it especially important for older adults to prevent hearing loss early, or compensate using hearing aids. As all forms of hearing loss occur gradually, many patients delay a visit to the audiologist, believing that the problem is not severe enough for medical attention. This could not be further from the truth: all forms of hearing loss should be evaluated as soon as possible, no matter the severity.
Having regular evaluations from an audiology specialist will help you stay informed on the status of your hearing and allow for preventative measures to begin before your hearing loss starts to have an impact on your brain. In next month’s blog, we will discuss more ways you can prevent high-frequency hearing loss early and maintain a sharp, healthy mind.
The audiologists at Hearing Unlimited have the expertise to help you prevent hearing loss before it’s too late. Get your healthy hearing plan started today - contact us online or by phone to schedule an appointment, and be sure to take advantage of our services and resources.