Acknowledging that you have trouble hearing can be quite difficult… Hearing loss is usually associated with older age – and who wants to admit they’re old? Unfortunately, declining hearing ability is the harsh reality of becoming older, but it doesn’t have to be something to be ashamed of – and to dismiss. In fact, the last thing you want to do about your hearing loss is ignore it because it can negatively impact your brain if left untreated.
Case in point, research has shown that untreated hearing loss can contribute to dementia. Why would your ability to hear impact your brain? Only 10 percent of hearing actually takes place in the ear – the remaining 90 percent is taking place in the brain. If there isn’t enough information coming in through the ears, the brain becomes lazy. The effect is similar to muscle dystrophy in the absence of physical activity. As a result, the brain becomes more susceptible to cognitive decline, and even dementia. (Did the Virgin Mary give scientists a clue into a memory-boosting miracle?)
It has been well researched that older adults with even mild hearing impairment have greater difficulty thinking and remembering, compared to those with good hearing.
Researchers have developed a number of theories explaining why hearing loss may contribute to dementia. For example:
- Constant straining to listen stresses the brain.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to process information differently, which results in re-wiring of the brain.
- Hearing loss can contribute to social isolation, which is a risk factor for dementia.
Doctor of audiology, John Salisbury, explained, “In our practice, we see patients who know they’ve had hearing loss for 20 to 30 years. When the brain has gone that long without proper stimulation, it takes more time to bring them back. The brain has to relearn how to listen and process information.”
Hearing loss is a treatable condition. Seeking help for your hearing loss can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and, ultimately, dementia. Unfortunately, many people pass on the available treatments. Hearing aids can greatly help improve a person’s ability to hear, but they are often ignored. Many people who could greatly benefit from hearing aids don’t use them – be it due to stigma or high cost. As a result, their hearing gets worse, bringing about social isolation and affecting their brain health. (Get back your hearing in as little as 21 days).
In the words of Dr. Salisbury, “[i]t’s a real public health problem when you consider that at least 34 million people in this country have hearing loss, but only a small fraction of them seek help.”
It’s important that people with hearing impairment seek out help, even if their hearing loss is still quite mild. Catching it early on can lead to more efficient interventions that could improve their hearing. As mentioned, hearing loss can impact brain health, too, giving you yet another reason to see your doctor.