Hearing and the brain are closely interconnected. Not only does your brain help you process sounds, but some research has indicated that hearing loss can change how your brain functions.
How Your Brain Helps You Hear
Sound is first perceived by the ear, where it travels from the outer ear through the middle and into the inner ear. There, the vibration from the sound stimulates hair cells in the inner ear, which then send electrical signals to the auditory nerve, which is connected to the auditory center of the brain. The brain is able to translate these impulses into recognizable sounds.
Your brain also makes it easier to discriminate between different sounds and focus on the sounds you want to hear while working to filter out distracting background noise.
Can Hearing Loss Change Your Brain?
A lot of research has been done to examine the effects that hearing loss can have on the brain. The National Library of Medicine states, “There is ample evidence linking hearing loss to changes in cognitive ability, particularly when listeners are faced with the task of understanding speech that is acoustically or linguistically challenging.”
Researchers are still trying to understand the exact mechanisms behind the connection between hearing loss and the brain. However, some theories have emerged to explain the connection.
- Lack of brain stimulation. When you start to lose the ability to hear certain sounds, the parts of your brain that process these sounds stop receiving adequate stimulation. Over time, this lack of stimulation could cause changes in the brain. Imaging has shown that hearing loss may lead to a “faster rate of atrophy in the brain,” which could lead to cognitive decline.
- Isolation. Many people with hearing loss start socially isolating themselves. This is because interacting with others often becomes too difficult and stressful. Isolation also deprives the brain of stimulation and has been known to accelerate cognitive decline and dementia.
Can Hearing Aids Help?
While having hearing loss does not mean that you will develop cognitive issues, what this research does highlight is the importance of treating hearing loss to your overall health. The first step is to schedule a hearing test with a qualified audiologist. If the results indicate that you have hearing loss, you and your audiologist will discuss your treatment options, the most common of which is hearing aids.
Hearing aids can make it easier for your brain to process speech and other sounds, whether at work, home or out enjoying a nice evening out with friends at Krause’s Café. This increases brain stimulation and helps you maintain social connections that are vital to your cognitive health and overall well-being.
To learn more or to schedule an appointment with one of our experts, call The ENT Center of New Braunfels today.