“If you break down what hearing is, it is a major component in our ability to connect with the rest of the world.” – Nicholas Reed, audiologist and faculty member at Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
In short, yes, hearing loss may indeed impact the brain. While it originates in the ear, its effects are profoundly experienced within the brain itself. Renowned neurologist Dr. Ronald Petersen notes that although the precise reasons behind this phenomenon remain unknown, certain studies have indicated a link between long-term hearing loss and structural differences in brain regions like the temporal lobe.
These neurological changes could result in other conditions alongside hearing loss, including cognitive decline and various mental health disorders. Read on to delve deeper into this complex subject.
What part of the brain is affected by hearing loss?
Several parts of the brain collaborate seamlessly to give us the remarkable gift of hearing. Among these are the auditory cortex, thalamus, and prefrontal cortex. These three parts of your brain harmonize with your ears, allowing you to perceive the sounds around you. It also works as a way to send the right triggers so you can promptly respond to any emergency.
When hearing loss occurs, your brain receives incomplete or weak signals from your inner ear. This makes the brain work harder than usual, leading to fatigue and exhaustion.
Can hearing loss cause dementia?
People grappling with moderate to severe hearing loss are found to be at a fivefold higher risk of developing dementia. This correlation stems from the increased cognitive load that the brain must shoulder. Years of research have concluded that cognitive decline and hearing loss are closely connected.
At present, Johns Hopkins University is delving into the potential of hearing aids to shield seniors’ cognitive processes. However, more accurate results may take up to three years to show any beneficial effects of hearing intervention and reducing cognitive decline.
Does hearing loss cause Alzheimer’s?
When the brain starts growing inactive, and hearing abilities decrease, it results in tissue loss and brain shrinkage, or atrophy. This creates one of the first links between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s. The connection between hearing loss and dementia becomes clearer when we think about how the brain gets overwhelmed.
The constant effort to understand sounds uses our mental energy and takes away the brain power we need for important things like remembering things, thinking, and making decisions. This can make it more likely for problems like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other issues with thinking to appear.
How to reduce the risk of mental illnesses due to hearing loss
Daily conversation and interaction become a challenge with hearing loss. About 11.4% of adults with impaired hearing reported having depression, compared to 5.9% for those with typical hearing. Also, losing your hearing at an early age may predispose you to develop schizophrenia later in life.
From entering conversations at inappropriate times and going off topic, to isolating yourself to avoid any interaction does heighten your chances of developing a mental illness. To reduce your chances, here are some examples of how to take action:
- Actively seek medical treatment and find emotional support.
- Wear hearing aids customized for your hearing needs.
- Reduce stress through relaxation techniques.
- Get professional treatment like cochlear implants.
Do you need a hearing test?
Hearing decline often develops slowly, so getting routine check-ups may mitigate the severity of your hearing loss. Howard E. LeWine, Chief Medical Editor for Harvard Health Publishing, suggests going through the questions below, and if you answer yes to three or more, you may want to talk to a hearing care professional.
- Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
- Do you have trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?
- Do people complain that you turn the volume of the radio or television up too high?
- Do you have to strain to understand conversation?
- Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
- Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
- Do many people you talk to seem to mumble or not speak clearly?
- Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
- Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
- Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?
Regular hearing tests are crucial in reducing the risk of developing mental illnesses and cognitive decline. Don’t wait for signs of trouble; act now to preserve your cognitive health. Schedule a free hearing test at Beltone Tristate today.