Hearing Loss and Brain Health

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We all know that we use our ears to hear. However, our ears are not the only hearing organs. Even though we use the ear to perceive sound, our brain is responsible for actually processing the sound. That means that the ear and brain work together in order for us to hear. Many researchers therefore believe that hearing and brain health may be directly associated.

Hearing loss decreases the amount of sounds one hears, which decreases the amount of input going in to the brain. The brain is like any other muscle and needs to constantly exercise in order to stay healthy. Less input and information means less processing and brain activity, which ultimately could lead to a cognitive decline. California Hearing Center believes that this association makes it even more imperative to test and treat hearing loss.

Neuroplasticity is our brain’s ability to change and reorganize its function. A study done at University of Colorado’s Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science, took a closer look at the brain’s neuroplasticity to determine the effects hearing loss had on the brain. The research found that when hearing loss occurs, other areas of the brain such as vision and touch will take over the parts that were initially used for hearing. It is our brain’s way of compensating for the loss of senses. After a while, the brain completely rewires itself from its natural state and can have serious ramifications on our cognition. This rewiring is called compensatory brain reorganization and significantly reduces the brain’s ability to process sound and can have a huge impact on how we understand speech, which means that the brain now has to use more parts just to comprehend normal speech. This compensation is done at the expense of the parts of your brain used for a higher level of thinking. It is basically your brain’s way of taking from its strong areas and giving it to the weaker. This leaves a decreased area in your brain to perform at the higher level that it is supposed to.

”Compensatory brain reorganization could explain why age related hearing loss is so strongly correlated with dementia, and why it must be taken seriously. Even in the early stages of hearing loss, the brain begins to reorganize. Knowing this, the solution could be as simple as early hearing loss screening programs for adults. Getting ahead of the decline through early intervention could prevent long term cognitive issues down the road.”

Hearing loss is a very serious matter that affects most of us as we get older, and it should not be taken lightly. It is almost never too late to seek treatment. Studies have shown that even when patients have suffered from hearing loss for a while, receiving treatment has increased their brain activity and helped them regain some of that cognition that was lost. There is a lot of room for improvement and it is wise to seek treatment sooner rather than later.

Source:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/hearing-loss-may-affect-brain-health-2020013118739

https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52469-New-study-shows-hearing-loss-impacts-brain-function#about-author-lisa-packer

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