The Link Between Hearing and Brain Function

Hearing loss is often viewed as a stand-alone medical issue. However, there are additional health concerns associated with hearing loss that shouldn’t be ignored. Studies are beginning to show that memory and brain function can both be negatively impacted as a result of hearing loss.

When we think of hearing, our first thought is generally our ears, but in reality, it is the brain that hears. Understanding the brain’s role in quality hearing is key to understanding hearing loss.

Oftentimes, the additional effort dedicated to listening when there is a decrease in hearing ability can cause stress, which in turn may result in decreased memory resources. In essence, one’s brain becomes so taxed from the mere effort of listening, that there is no energy left to remember the information that was taken in.

Here is the core issue: we actually hear with our brain, and not our ears. Our brain’s ability to analyze information heard is impacted by the effort the brain must put forth in order to first decode the actual words heard.

The link between hearing and brain function also suggests connections between hearing loss and dementia. According to multiple John Hopkins studies1, the use of properly fitted hearing aids can help in preventing dementia. In fact, hearing loss can have a greater impact on potential dementia than other health conditions or even genetic diseases.

Additionally, studies2 have shown that those who use effective hearing aids are more socially engaged and possess a more positive outlook on life. The relationships one engages in once hearing loss is treated can be yet another preventative measure when it comes to cognitive abilities, memory, and dementia. A recent study by the Journal of the American Geriatric Society3 shows that there is a greater chance of cognitive decline for those with hearing difficulties who do not use hearing aids. This is largely due to the natural tendency to withdraw from social activities when listening becomes difficult.

One of the best things you can do to preserve your memory and cognitive abilities is to get a hearing test. Be proactive about your hearing. Many hearing evaluations are covered by Medicare or insurance and can help identify any hearing difficulties you may be experiencing.

 


1 “Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss – 01/22/2014.” Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, John Hopkins Medicine, 22
Jan. 2014, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_.
2 “The National Council on the Aging.” Seniors Research Group, May 1999, pp. 1–12.
3 Amieva, Hélène, et al. “Self-Reported Hearing Loss, Hearing Aids, and Cognitive Decline in Elderly Adults: A 25-Year Study.” Journal of the
American Geriatrics Society, vol. 63, no. 10, 2015, pp. 2099–2104., doi:10.1111/jgs.13649
• https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_
• https://www.ncoa.org/wp-content/uploads/NCOA-Study-1999.pdf

Posted in Health & Lifestyle, Hearing Health