When we think about hearing, we naturally think about our ears. However, our brains are what allow us to process and understand the sound that our ears perceive. Not only does the brain play a vital role in the hearing process, but research has also indicated that hearing loss may affect brain function.
The Role of The Brain in The Hearing Process
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.
Additionally, the brain works to do things like discriminate, recognize and focus on relevant sounds we want to hear and filter out distracting background noise.
Hearing Loss and Cognition
There has been a lot of research about the link between hearing loss and its effect on cognition. Several studies have found a connection between hearing loss and an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
In fact, according to The National Library of Medicine, “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.”
How Can Hearing Loss Impact the Brain?
The mechanisms behind the link between hearing loss and cognition are not entirely understood. However, there are some ideas as to what contributes to the association.
One study looking at brain scans found that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain. This may occur because the parts of your brain that process sound don’t get enough stimulation as you stop picking up on certain noises.
Another thought is that hearing loss often leads to social isolation because interactions with others become more difficult. Isolation has been known to accelerate cognitive decline.
Can Treating Hearing Loss Be Good for the Brain?
It’s important to note that these findings mean there is an association between cognitive decline and hearing loss. However, more research needs to be done to understand better the connection to see how best to help people from developing cognitive issues.
One thing that is certain is that treating hearing loss with hearing aids makes it easier for your brain to process speech and other sounds, whether you’re at work, running errands or enjoying dinner with your family at Scardino’s Italian Restaurant.
If you’ve noticed that you’re having to put more effort into understanding conversations or hearing what’s being said on the TV or radio, call Torrance Audiology today and schedule an appointment for a hearing test.