Most people consider hearing loss and cognitive impairment as normal when they get older. However, research has revealed a link between hearing loss and mild cognitive impairment, which may be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. According to the research, people with hearing loss were two times more likely to develop cognitive impairment compared to people with normal hearing.
Your hearing plays an important role in keeping your brain and memory sharp, so it is essential to get your hearing tested frequently.
If your ears cannot pick up sounds, your hearing nerves will send only fewer signals to your brain, and thus depriving your brain of stimulation, it once had. When you are trying hard to listen, your brain may go through cognitive overload. This means that when your brain is working hard to decode what others are saying, it doesn’t store the information in your memory as well as if you are listening with ease. This is one way that hearing loss can affect memory and contribute to a quicker decline in thinking.
Here are a few hearing loss-related complications:
People with troubled hearing may tend to feel isolated as they cannot join in conversations or be social with others as much as they would like. This can lead to emotional disorders and stress. The more hearing loss they have, the greater the chances of experiencing stress in social situations.
With nerve-type or sensorineural hearing loss, the inner ear sensory cells and/or the auditory nerve responsible for sending incoming signals to the brain are impaired, and the signals get distorted. This is why people with hearing loss have difficulty understanding what others are saying.
When you communicate with someone, your brain processes the incoming sounds you receive so you can understand what you hear. However, your brain has to work harder to process the sounds if you cannot hear clearly. The greater workload may use resources that your brain could use for other activities such as learning and committing what you hear to memory. The increase in listening effort can cause listening fatigue and cognitive overload.
People with hearing loss are at risk for isolating themselves by avoiding social functions and meetings where interaction is key. Prolonged isolation can lead to depression and changes in the brain. Your brain has much less stimulation when you distance yourself from people. Social isolation has been linked to shrinkage of brain cells in laboratory mice. It is the reduction in brain mass that may put one at risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
The ability to hear is important in helping you understand your surroundings. You may experience anxiety and stress when you cannot hear a phone, siren, alarm, emergency call for help, or someone approaching you. You may also experience a sense of uneasiness, especially when you are a caregiver of another person, such as a small child or an elderly loved one, or when you are home alone.
People with hearing loss find communication difficult, which may lead to stress, social isolation, and depression. Depression is linked to memory problems such as confusion or difficulty with thinking. Also, it leads to short-term memory loss and makes it difficult to concentrate on your routine tasks or make decisions.
Hearing loss can put you at risk of depression, cognitive impairment, isolation, and anxiety. However, these problems can be alleviated with regular use of hearing aids when they are prescribed for your hearing loss. Hearing aids can help restore your communication function and improve your auditory memory and communication competence.
The University of Maryland (UMD) Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP) conducted research in which they monitored a group of first-time hearing aid users with mild to moderate hearing loss for six months. The research team has used various cognitive and behavioral tests to evaluate participants’ memory and hearing. After six months, participants showed significant improvement in listening, memory, and neural speech processing from using hearing aids. The findings of the research are published in Neuropsychologia and Clinical Neurophysiology.
The sooner you get your hearing loss treated with hearing aids, the better it will be for your brain and memory. Visit an audiologist near you to get your hearing tested and receive recommendations for the best hearing aids.
Contact us at 949-536-5180 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Chris Hoffmann!