Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

Hearing Loss & Cognitive Decline

More and more research shows that our mental health is linked to how well we hear and that untreated hearing loss can speed up mental decline. Alzheimer’s disease is 1.3 times more likely to happen to someone with hearing loss if they don’t get it fixed.

Why does hearing loss have such a strong link to cognitive health? The answer comes from knowing how our hearing system works and what can happen when it doesn’t work well.

What makes hearing loss happen

The auditory system is complicated, and several things can cause hearing loss. The most common cause of permanent hearing loss is damage to the inner ear’s delicate hair cells. 

Our hair cells pick up sound waves like microphones. They can pick up on the tiny vibrations of sound waves and send audio signals to the brain so that it can figure out what they mean.

In our inner ears, we are born with a set number of hair cells. The cells can’t make copies of themselves or fix themselves, so a damaged hair cell can never get better and can’t be replaced by a new hair cell. This means that the number of hair cells that work will go down throughout our lives, making it harder for us to hear sounds. 

A loss of even a single hair cell causes a gap in our hearing, but a significant reduction in our sense of sound understanding is only achieved by losing several hair cells.

When our hearing is severely impaired, our ears cannot catch up on every sound, and our brains get partial signals from the background noise. It gets harder to figure out the meaning of incoming sound signals. The brain must work harder to figure out what sounds mean, like trying to finish a crossword puzzle with only half of the clues. The results are also less reliable.

The changing brain

The way our brain deals with sounds changes when we lose our hearing. The mind gives more weight to sensory information like sound, so when hearing loss makes it hard to understand, the mind moves more resources to the task at hand. This constant shifting of brain activity takes attention away from other cognitive tasks, which can have complex short-term and long-term effects.

When we ignore our balance and coordination, we are much more likely to trip or hurt ourselves by accident. People with untreated hearing loss are much more likely to trip and fall. This can happen quickly when hearing loss makes it hard for the brain to work.

Hearing loss is persistent stress on the brain and may hasten the development of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other kinds of cognitive decline. Hearing may tax the body and alter how neurons fire in the brain. The brain has to keep spending more and more of its resources to compensate for hearing loss. Other regions develop an auditory function to compensate for the decline in function of previously engaged brain regions. Disruption of mental equilibrium occurs when hearing loss increases the demand for cognitive resources.

Your health and Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease has no known cure, but medical research has made giant leaps in our understanding over the past few decades. At the moment, medical research is the best way to find treatments that work. Alzheimer’s Disease International, in charge of World Alzheimer’s Month, has educational materials to help people learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Take care of your hearing, and take care of your brain.

Treating your hearing loss can help you think and remember better. A recent study in France found that people with hearing loss who didn’t get treatment had trouble with their thinking but that getting hearing aids helped them with their cognition.

We can help you if you have questions about your hearing. Our hearing specialists can help you at every step, from testing your hearing to fitting and programming hearing aids. We’re proud of how well we take care of our customers and how much we want to help you hear your best. Set up an appointment with us today to care for your hearing health.