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How Hearing Loss Impacts Your Brain Function

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Hearing Centers of AZ - How Hearing Loss Impacts Your Brain FunctionThough your brain and hearing may seem disconnected, the reality is that the experience of hearing is processed in the auditory center of your brain. As the third most common medical condition, hearing loss affects 48 million Americans, or 20% of the population. Even so, it is an undertreated and often undiagnosed condition. In part, this is because people adjust their behaviors to accommodate hearing loss. Additionally, hearing loss occurs gradually, which means that we may not notice the signs of hearing loss until the condition has worsened considerably.

Here, we take a look at how untreated hearing loss could impact your brain function and what you can do about it.

Study: How the Brain Organizes Itself with Hearing Loss

At the University of Colorado’s Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science, researchers studied how “the brain reorganizes itself by forming new neuron connections throughout life” and how this “plays into the adaptation of the brain after hearing loss.” In this study, research was conducted on the correlation between the brain’s adaptation to hearing loss and what this could mean.

Using electroencephalographic (EEG) technology, researchers recorded brain functions of participants (adults and children alike) with varying degrees of hearing loss. This mapping gave researchers insight into the differences in brain functions of those with various degrees of hearing loss and those without. During the study, tiny sensors were placed on participants scalp. Sounds were then played, allowing researchers to record brain function and activity in response to sounds. In particular, researchers were looking for “response in the form of brain waves that originate in the auditory cortex – the most important center for processing speech and language – and other areas of the brain.

According to Dr. Anu Sharma, one of the lead researchers: “The hearing areas of the brain shrink in age-related hearing loss. Centers of the brain that are typically used for higher-level decision-making are then activated in just hearing sounds. These compensatory changes increase the overall load on the brains of aging adults. Compensatory brain reorganization secondary to hearing loss may also be a factor in explaining recent reports in the literature that show age-related hearing loss is significantly correlated with dementia.”

Dr. Sharma refers to previous studies conducted at Johns Hopkins University that have found a link between untreated hearing loss and the increased risk for developing dementia. The University of Colorado’s research correlates with the ongoing push for people to get take hearing tests and seek treatment at the earliest signs of hearing loss.

Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss

With untreated hearing loss, neuroplasticity suggests that the brain will adapt to unclear sound signals. This creates a heavier cognitive load for the brain, which has been linked to the potential for developing dementia. In addition to this risk, there are a number of other consequences related to untreated hearing loss.

People with untreated hearing loss have difficulties with speech recognition, which hinders communication in different areas of their lives. Socially, people with untreated hearing loss may become withdrawn and isolate themselves from friends and loved ones. Social gatherings may become overwhelming for conversation. In terms of one’s professional life, studies have shown that people with untreated hearing loss have lower earning power than colleagues with normal hearing and colleagues who treat their hearing loss with the use of hearing aids.

Untreated hearing loss has also been linked with an increased rate of falls, accidents, and hospitalizations. Because our sense of hearing connects us to the sounds in our environment, it follows that untreated hearing loss restricts our abilities to recognize sounds that would keep us safe.

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that people wait an average of seven years from the time they first begin to experience changes in their hearing to the time they decide to seek treatment. During this time, as studies have indicated, we may sustain many different consequences to our health and well-being.

Identifying the signs of hearing loss and seeking treatment as soon as possible is the best way to prevent further issues down the line. Hearing loss is a medical condition, and as such, it does require professional care.

Visit Us at Hearing Centers of Arizona

At the Hearing Centers of Arizona, we provide comprehensive hearing tests and hearing aid fittings. If a hearing loss is found, we will work with you to find the best solution to meet your hearing needs.

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