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In this age of puzzles, we are awash in games and apps that claim their challenges are the equivalent of a personal trainer for your brain. While deductive brain teasers can help fortify your cognitive skills, your cognitive health also relies on a surprising aspect of your wellbeing: your hearing health. Healthy hearing has an interesting and well-documented connection to cognitive well-being and treating hearing loss is a great way to enhance your cognitive performance.
An Unexpected Connection
What does your hearing have to do with how your brain functions? Quite a lot actually! When our hearing is unimpaired, our mind has a streamlined way of discerning the meaning and direction of incoming sounds and speech. The process is nearly instantaneous and gives us the ability to rapidly respond to danger and keep up with quick multi-person conversations without much effort.
However, when hearing loss is present, things become more complicated for the brain’s performance. Hearing loss means that the brain is not receiving a full range of incoming sounds. Critical tones and frequencies may be missing from the range of sounds our ears detect. Now it becomes a mental task to piece together the source and meaning of sounds.
Much like trying to fill in a crossword without all the clues, deciphering incoming speech when hearing loss is present can be tricky. It will take longer and is much more likely to be inaccurate. It can easily make listening a frustrating and exhausting activity.
The extra effort that your brain needs to grapple with hearing loss has to come from somewhere. In fact, when your mind sends extra focus and mental resources to help with hearing comprehension it pulls energy away from other cognitive areas. This means that even critical skills like balance and coordination become shortchanged by hearing loss.
Focus pulled away from other cognitive tasks makes them harder to perform and creates an overall unhealthy environment of cognitive strain. In the example above, compromised balance and coordination result in a greater number of serious falling accidents (this is what is behind the link between untreated hearing loss and higher rates of falling injuries).
Cognitive strain ultimately taxes your whole body. The effects can be more noticeable depending on the degree of untreated hearing loss present and the amount of incoming sound and speech a person is exposed to.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
It should be no surprise then, that untreated hearing loss is connected to our overall cognitive performance. People with hearing loss that is unaddressed consistently demonstrate slower and less accurate results in cognitive testing.
Untreated hearing loss is also associated with higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, marked by a steep cognitive decline and loss of cognitive skills.While the full scope of the connection isn’t fully understood, research points to the persistent cognitive strain of hearing loss as a decisive factor in making our cognitive integrity vulnerable.
Treating Hearing Loss Is the Answer
It can be daunting to think about how hearing loss can compromise cognitive performance, but there are ways to protect your health. While most hearing loss cannot be reversed, treating hearing loss with hearing aids offers an effective way to improve your hearing and reduce cognitive strain. The earlier hearing loss is treated, the more effective hearing aids can be at mitigating harmful cognitive patterns. That said, it is never too late to begin using hearing aids – they can help nearly everyone with hearing loss improve their hearing and contribute to enhanced cognitive aptitude.
One telling study recently looked at cognitive performance in people with both untreated hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease. A group in the study began using hearing aids to improve their hearing. Even with the cognitive challenges of dementia, the participants using hearing aids showed a dramatic increase in their cognitive processing, indicating that hearing aids help our brain perform better.
Have you recently noticed changes in the way you hear? Hearing loss often develops gradually so it is important to notice changes and seek treatment for hearing issues when they arise. We are here to help. Our comprehensive testing and treatment options help you access your best hearing and wellness. Ready to set up an appointment? Contact us today.