How Does Hearing Loss Affect Your Brain?
Hearing loss does not only affect your ability to participate in conversations. John Hopkins experts Prof Frank Lin and colleagues found that even mild hearing loss can double your dementia risk.
Depending on your age, dementia may now be your primary concern. But dementia isn’t the only risk associated with untreated hearing loss. An increased cognitive load and the change of brain functions can affect you at any age.
We understand that any degree of hearing loss can be frustrating, and we don’t mean to cause you further stress by discussing the risks for your mental health.
But we do think knowledge is power. Being aware of the risks and consequences of untreated hearing loss will hopefully encourage you to seek the appropriate treatment and prevent negative long-term effects.
The Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss
We’ve previously discussed the general risks associated with untreated hearing loss.
Here’s a summary of what we’ve found!
Hearing loss can affect how you engage and communicate with the people in your life.
If you struggle to hear, you may find yourself withdrawing from social activities and be less confident in social interactions.
Social isolation can seriously impact your mental health and may speed up the cognitive decline associated with untreated hearing loss.
Mild forms of hearing loss increase your chances of a serious fall threefold.
Why? Firstly, hearing loss can decrease your overall awareness of your environment, which may make it more difficult to estimate where your body is in relation to other people or objects.
Secondly, your brain may be so overwhelmed with the increased effort to hear that fewer resources are available for gait and balance.
One in ten people who have hearing loss have been diagnosed with depression.
If you have existing mental health concerns, hearing loss may exacerbate your mental health problems.
Hearing loss can be a burden on your family and friends as they struggle to communicate with you. Your partner, for example, may feel lonely, too and miss the relationship they shared with you.
A Harvard study found that hearing loss is 54 per cent more common in people suffering from some form of heart disease.
Hearing loss can be the result of restricted blood flow to the ears. In some cases, a hearing loss can indicate a more serious, underlying health issue such as heart disease.
The Risks of Untreated Hearing Loss
Cognition, brain function and mental health
Let’s take a closer look at how hearing loss affects your brain functions.
Hearing loss increases cognitive load
|Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental exertion required to use a specified system. Cognitive load has been proven to dramatically affect your performance.|
If you’ve been living with a hearing loss, you know all too well that you need to exert a lot more energy to make sense of what conversation partners are saying. This is particularly true in situations where there’s a lot of background noise your brain needs to filter out.
Untreated hearing loss puts your brain under constant strain. The increased cognitive load is not only tiring, but it also dips into your memory reserves and other brain functions such as paying attention to your surrounding, reasoning and problem-solving.
A 2021 study found that hearing loss is associated with lower baseline levels of cognitive function, verbal fluency, attention, memory, and dexterity in dementia-free patients. It also showed that performance on memory tests in those suffering from hearing loss decreases over time.
The scientists, however, also concluded that more research needs to be undertaken before hearing loss can be named as a definitive risk factor for cognitive decline
and whether rehabilitative hearing treatments could delay said decline.
Hearing loss changes how the brain functions
|The brain controls every process that regulates your body, including your thoughts and emotions, your senses, breathing, body temperature, and more.|
How does hearing loss affect how your brain controls these processes? Studies indicate that untreated hearing loss can result in a change of the part of your brain that was formerly devoted to processing hearing and auditory information.
According to audiologist Dr Rhee Rosenman-Nesson, “The temporal lobe is the area of the brain which processes both auditory information and short-term memory storage. It is also the first area to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease, so difficulty listening can potentially lead to a progressive deterioration in this area.”
A 2018 review published by The Journal of the American Medical Association found significant links between age-related hearing loss and the development of dementia.
This is supported by the aforementioned study conducted by Prof Frank Lin for John Hopkins. Lin and his team found that moderate hearing loss tripled the risk of dementia, and those patients with severe hearing impairments were five times more likely to develop dementia.
On a more positive note, researchers recently also found that neurons in the adult brain can remodel their connections. That means the brain can rewire itself and compensate for the loss of one sense by strengthening others. For example, parts of the brain that formerly worked to process sounds may be “repurposed” to process vision and touch instead.
Are You Concerned About Hearing Loss?
The good news is that hearing loss is very much manageable. Hearing aids, for one, can make you feel more in tune with your environment and less susceptible to suffer from the increased cognitive load associated with untreated hearing loss. In addition, modern hearing aids are designed to help you live your life to the fullest and equip you with the hearing you require to deal with life’s complexities.
Before making a decision, your journey to better hearing health should start with a hearing test undertaken by a qualified, accredited audiologist. So if you have any questions about the risks of untreated hearing loss or would like to schedule a comprehensive hearing test with an Attune hearing care professional, get in touch!