The health and longevity of our brains is dependent on a lot of factors, be it our nutritional habits, environmental exposure and the health of the rest of our bodies. One example, which has been the subject of recent research is the link between hearing and brain health.
Our brains thrive on stimulation and our senses play a big part in shaping our perception of the world around us. When those senses dull, it impacts our brain’s ability to perceive and understand our surroundings. It’s easy to understand why this means that hearing loss is a risk factor for the development of dementia, in the same way that smoking, social isolation and a lack of exercise can all contribute to the development of neurodegenerative conditions.
Why is Hearing Loss Bad for the Brain?
Brain scans of those who suffer from a loss of hearing show that the brain atrophies quicker when hearing loss occurs. As previously mentioned, stimulating our brains is important for brain health. Brain imaging studies show that those who suffer from hearing loss have less gray matter in the parts of the brain that deal sound processing.
Rather than losing brain cells in their entirety, certain parts of brain cells shrink when this happens, leading researchers to believe that hearing aids could help these parts of cells to maintain their typical form.
The effects of the atrophy are significant as this change can trigger a desire for social isolation due to the fact that being with people becomes harder when communication is strained.
Hearing loss can also cause problems maintaining balance. Our ears pick up important signals about the environment around us that our brain uses to help balance ourselves. As we suffer from hearing loss, the brain has to work harder to process that information, which can interfere with our ability to do seemingly simple things, such as walking or activities that require coordination.
What Can This Teach Us?
While this sounds like a bad thing, the good news is that recent studies which have made this connection all agree. Treating hearing loss more aggressively may actually have the power to help older adults slow down cognitive decline and the development of other conditions such as dementia.
A study led by French researchers published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery looked at the use of hearing enhancements and found that through the use of technology, cognitive function can be greatly improved.
The study examined a group of 94 people ages 65 to 85 with notable deafness in at least one ear. The participants were given a cochlear implant device and received auditory rehabilitation twice per week. In just one year, more than 80% of the participants with the lowest cognitive scores at the outset saw improvement.
While it is true that much of hearing loss research and treatment is geared toward an older audience, research published in the journal eNeuro suggests that even subtle hearing loss in younger populations puts strain on the brain that wouldn’t typically happen until a later age. This can have a knock on effect that leads to development of cognitive issues at younger ages.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of hearing loss, it’s important to seek treatment and attempt to mitigate the impacts of hearing loss on your brain before it leads to something of greater concern.