It is common to experience cognitive decline as we age. In the first few weeks of gestation, the human brain is already building 100 new neurons per minute. Our brains continue to grow and build new neurons amazingly into our 20’s. However, by the time most of us are in our mid 30’s and 40’s our brains slowly start to shrink, which picks up in our 60’s. Dementia is a neurogenerative disease affecting two or more cognitive functioning and affecting an estimated 6.2 million US citizens 65 and older as of 2021. This equals one in nine age 65 and older. However, aging does not guarantee you will suffer from dementia. There are several things you can do to lower your risk of cognitive decline leading to dementia. Surprising for many, one of these factors is hearing loss.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
Multiple studies have explored the connection and suggested there is a noticeably increased likeliness of developing dementia with untreated hearing loss. They theorize that some of the major reasons center around several factors. These include:
- Cognitive load: When we start to lose our hearing, it doesn’t happen all at once and rarely progresses to total deafness. It often first manifests itself as the loss of certain consonants, tones, or pitches. This limits the amount of audio information your brain can receive and leaves gaps in words and sentences, requiring our brain to work overtime, increasing the cognitive load to hear and respond to even a simple conversation.
- Social isolation: It’s all too common for someone with hearing loss to become isolated. Struggling to hear conversations between family members, friends, and co-workers all day is exhausting. When given the opportunity an exhausted hearing-impaired person will often choose to avoid social interactions altogether, rather than subject themselves to the anxiety that listening with untreated hearing loss causes.
- Brain structure: Over time isolation t can lead to depression and under-stimulation of the brain. This underuse of cognitive functioning can often cause the brain to atrophy – or shrink from under-stimulation. It impacts the brain cells in the auditory cortex which are used to process sound. As less and less information is received it can cause these cells to die, increasing the risk for brain diseases such as dementia.
Supporting Our Brain with Hearing Aids
There is so much scientific research investigating ways to decrease the likeliness of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia because currently there is no known cure, just prevention. One study explored the effects of treating hearing with the regular use of hearing aids. Using over 4,000 volunteers over 25 years the study discovered that individuals who didn’t use hearing aids but those who experienced hearing loss had a significantly higher risk of depression and dementia. In comparison, those that used hearing aids experience cognitive decline at a similar rate to those that didn’t have hearing loss.
Hearing Aids Benefit for Your Brain
The reason that researchers believe that hearing aids can improve brain functioning is centered on the relief they provide. Your brain won’t have to struggle to fill in sentences and you can be more present during the conversation. This often causes patients to experience a new sense of confidence and self-esteem. It may also make patients with hearing loss more likely to try new things, take a class or peruse a hobby. The more we enjoy the life we have in the present moment the healthier our overall health can be. This includes physical health, mental health, and cognitive health. Using hearing aids to improve the sound quality of an individual who is experiencing some degree of hearing loss will restore their ability to improve their communication in social interactions. This has the potential to stimulate the brain and is one factor that can reduce the risk of cognitive decline leading to dementia.
Addressing Hearing Loss
Many people underestimate the severity of hearing loss and its far-reaching emotional, mental, and physical impacts on health. If you have been struggling with hearing loss to even a slight degree, it is a good idea to schedule a hearing consultation. We can diagnose your hearing and help you to find the best solution to keep you engaged and enjoying the life you love with a clear hearing and clear mind for years to come.