February 26, 2024

How Treating Hearing Loss Supports Your Brain

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Did you know that 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 have a hearing loss? That number grows to 1 in 2 people over the age of 75! Hearing loss is an inconvenience and frustration for many. Hearing loss makes it hard to follow conversations, enjoy watching TV, or hear during concerts or religious services. Not only that, but hearing loss also affects the brain in some surprising ways.

Hearing Loss Is Linked to Dementia

Hearing loss makes it harder to have a laugh with friends, but hearing loss does a lot more than make your dinner parties difficult. Hearing loss has a major impact on the brain. In fact, a recent study found that older adults with hearing loss are far more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease than adults who can hear clearly.

Adults with moderate hearing loss are more likely than their hearing peers to have a dementia diagnosis. And adults with severe hearing loss are much more likely to develop dementia.

Hearing Loss and the Brain

But why is hearing loss linked to dementia? It’s because hearing loss has a big impact on the brain. Hearing doesn’t just happen in your ears. A lot of your hearing actually happens in the brain. That’s why untreated hearing loss is very damaging for your brain in a number of ways. Older adults with hearing loss experience rapid cognitive decline, have a hard time doing cognitive tasks, and even have more cell loss and brain shrinkage.

Auditory Deprivation from Hearing Loss

When you live with untreated hearing loss, your brain experiences auditory deprivation. This means that your brain is deprived of certain sounds. When your ears can’t pick up on all the sounds around you, they don’t send signals about these sounds to your brain. The brain experiences auditory deprivation, since lots of sounds in your natural hearing range aren’t making it to your brain anymore. After some time without hearing certain sounds, the brain cells in the auditory region start to atrophy or die, shrinking the auditory centers in the brain. In fact, parts of the auditory regions in the brain even get reassigned to other sensory systems, such as vision. When this happens, you’ll discover that the rule “use it or lose it” applies to your hearing as well. After prolonged auditory deprivation, you’ll lose those brain cells, and even when you finally treat your hearing loss, you may never regain the ability to hear those sounds.

How Treating Hearing Loss Supports Your Brain

The good news is that there’s a simple thing you can do to support your brain. Just treat your hearing loss! Wearing hearing aids helps the cells in your ear pick up more of the sounds around you. More signals will get sent to your brain, and you won’t need to worry about auditory deprivation. When you treat your hearing loss, you’ll have an easy time hearing conversations, hearing speech even in noisy environments, and hearing all the soft sounds around you.

Slowing Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Another way hearing aids can support your brain is by slowing hearing loss. When you wear quality hearing aids that reduce auditory deprivation, your brain will hear more of the sounds around you. This keeps your ears and brain healthier and can slow hearing loss.

Treating hearing loss also supports your brain by slowing the rate of cognitive decline. People who treat their hearing loss with hearing aids are less likely to develop dementia than those who don’t treat their hearing loss.

Early Treatment of Hearing Loss

To support brain health, prioritize your hearing health! As soon as you notice any changes in your hearing, schedule a hearing test to discover exactly what sounds you’re missing. We recommend that adults over 50 have a hearing test every 2 to 3 years, and adults over 60 get their hearing tested every 1 to 2 years. If you have hearing loss, find the hearing aids that help you hear. This supports your brain before you notice any auditory deprivation. It will take you a few weeks to adjust to your new devices, but once you’re used to wearing hearing aids, these devices will keep your ears and your brain healthy.

Dr. Teague earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Hearing, Speech and Language from Ohio University and his Doctoral Degree in Audiology from The University of Louisville. He is an active member of the American Academy of Audiology and the Ohio Board of Audiology.

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