How Treating Hearing Loss Supports Your Brain
When we talk about hearing loss, we usually do so solely in terms of the immediate impact that hearing loss brings. Which is, of course, the inability to hear as well as possible. However, that’s not the only consequence of hearing loss. Studies have shown that if hearing loss isn’t treated, then the shift in ability can actually change the structure of the brain, and even change the way in which we think.
This is vital information, especially given that there are some fifty million people in the United States alone that experience hearing loss. Of all the people who experience hearing loss, it’s estimated that only in the region of around 15% of people take steps to seek treatment. The people that don’t seek treatment may believe that their level of hearing loss is acceptable, or just mildly inconvenient, but in the process of allowing it to develop, they may be increasing their chances of undergoing additional changes.
Your brain is always in flux. It’s not something that’s just set in its ways; it’s always possible to change by creating new neural connections and pathways. While this is more prevalent when we’re younger, researchers now understand that the process never stops entirely. It becomes more difficult, but if the changes are strong enough, then the brain adapts. And that’s just what happens when it comes to hearing loss. If the condition is not treated, then the neural connections that process sounds are no longer being used, which means that they either change or the connections are shifted to another part of the brain.
How does hearing loss affect the brain?
So now we know how the brain can adapt and form new neural connections, let’s take a look at how the brain responds to hearing loss. A team at the University of Colorado analyzed how people with hearing loss responded to sounds compared to those without hearing loss. Of course, they didn’t look at people’s faces; they looked at their brains. They found that in people who have hearing loss, the part of the brain that would usually respond to sounds was no longer active or at least was less active. In some cases, the areas of the brain dedicated to other senses, such as sight or touch, were more active.
What’s the impact?
With this, we can see that the brain doesn’t necessarily stop working because of untreated hearing loss, but rather that it works in different ways, for example by pushing extra power towards other senses. While this might not sound like the worst thing in the world, the truth is that this ultimately isn’t how the brain is supposed to work, and thus it can have a negative impact on cognition. Neural connections get weaker the less that they’re used. If the brain is shifting towards other senses, then the hearing part of our brain will become weaker, which will make it even more difficult to follow a conversation.
Following this, the brain goes into something of a negative cycle. The hearing part of the brain is weaker but not inactive; to make up for its lack of strength, it has to work extra hard, which means that an unusually high level of power is dedicated to just one aspect of your mind. This can make it extra difficult to engage in other important tasks, such as decision-making or cognitive thinking.
The impact on dementia
Researchers have discovered that there’s a link between untreated hearing loss and dementia, too. Taking the time to get a hearing aid from an audiologist has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia by some 18%, and it can also lower the risk of depression and anxiety, too. This is due to the brain’s inability to process at a high level, and there’s also the impact of fatigue, since the brain is working harder just so it can try to keep up with sounds – which it ultimately can’t do.
If you think that you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss, then be sure to get in touch with us at Hearing Wellness Centre. We have nearly fifteen years of experience of helping people in the Windsor-Essex county area with their hearing healthcare, and can provide a whole host of services, including hearing aid fittings. If you’re ready to get started with your journey towards better hearing, then give us a call at (519) 735-4327, or you can click the Request an Appointment button at the top of this page.