When we think about hearing loss, we generally only think about our ears. What we don't stop to think about is our brain. After all, our brain processes what we hear, and if you are living with hearing loss that is not being treated, it can have a significant impact on the health of your brain too. 

We now know – and this has been backed up by multiple studies and research – that people should seek treatment as soon as possible when they first begin to experience signs of hearing loss so that their brains remain in optimal condition.

How the brain supports hearing

Of course, hearing starts in our ears, but that is not where it ends. Sound vibrations enter your ear canal and are then directed towards the tympanic membrane – otherwise known as the middle ear. This middle ear vibration creates movement in the inner ear, which is filled with fluid. Delicate hair cells pick up on these vibrations and convert the sound waves into electrical impulses, which are sent into the brain via the auditory nerve, here, the electrical signals are interpreted into sounds, which is what you hear.

Hearing and neuroplasticity

Our brain is an incredibly complex and clever organ. It is able to reorganize itself and form new neural pathways and networks. It is particularly good at doing this in childhood, which is why children learn new skills much faster than an adult. We can still do this as adults, but it is a much slower and less effective process. In most circumstances, this ability to reform and reorganize, a process called neuroplasticity, is a positive thing but when it comes to hearing loss, it may not be so good.

When you experience hearing loss, your brain does not receive the full range of sounds in your environment due to the damage in the inner ear. The cells do not have anything to do and are so given other functions to do. They often get reassigned to other sensory areas, such as touch or vision. This can cause a degree of cognitive decline.

Researchers at John Hopkins found that people over the age of 70 with a normal hearing range would take around 11 years to experience cognitive impairment. Those with some degree of hearing loss developed it within eight years, on average. 

Hearing and cognitive decline

If the brain is reorganized to respond to hearing loss, it has a tougher time when it comes to processing sounds. This makes it harder to hear and understand speech.

The auditory areas of your brain become weaker even with milder forms of hearing loss. When you are trying hard to hear, the parts of the brain that usually deal with more complex cognitive functions take over – you may be able to hear more, but not necessarily understand it, as your cognitive function has been impacted.

Hearing loss and mental health

Hearing loss also has other impacts on our brain, such as causing poor mental health. Hearing loss can lead many people to feel isolated and alone – they may struggle to take part in normal conversations and not be willing to attend social functions where there may be lots of different noises or not be able to have a telephone conversation at work. This isolation, and often feelings of embarrassment, can lead to people developing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. 

Early treatment for hearing loss is essential

Clear hearing is vital for normal cognitive function, and by treating hearing loss as early as possible, the impact on cognitive decline can be minimal, if at all. Early treatment will allow you to retain information, focus on tasks, improve overall memory and think logically.

A study in France on people aged between 65-85 with profound hearing loss in at least one ear showed that within one year of having a cochlear implant fitted, those with the lowest cognitive scores demonstrated a significant improvement.

For people who are experiencing hearing loss, there is a wide range of hearing aids available to give you a better range of hearing and allow you to have a better quality of life with slower cognitive impairment. 

Visit us today at Siouxland Hearing Healthcare, P.L.C to learn more about how treating hearing loss is vital for your ears and your cognitive function or call us at (712) 266-3662 and find out how we can help you remain at your very best for longer.