The Relationship Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

04/27/2022 | Patient Resources, The Brain and Hearing Health

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

There is a significant correlation between having an untreated hearing loss and one’s rate of cognitive decline.

In 2015, researchers from the University of Colorado reported how the brain reacts to hearing loss, showing that it can reassign the parts of the brain that process hearing to do other tasks, thereby reducing cognition. More recent studies are confirming these findings.

This can happen even with mild hearing loss, and it might explain why we often see signs of cognitive decline at Holland Hearing Center when hearing loss goes untreated.

How The Brain Adapts to Hearing Loss

In the study, the researchers measured brain activity responses to sounds in adults and children with different levels of hearing loss using EEG recordings – brain activity measured by metal discs/electrodes attached to the scalp.

By measuring brain waves in the auditory cortex – the brain’s speech and language processing center – for each participant, the researchers were able to compare how well the auditory center responded to certain sounds.

They then compared results between participants with no hearing loss and participants with mild to severe hearing loss or deafness, and found that, for those with hearing loss, some brains “hijacked” the low-functioning auditory cortex and reassigned its function for other purposes.

“The areas of the brain responsible for processing vision or touch can recruit areas in which hearing is normally processed, but which receive little or no stimulation in deafness. This cortical reorganization reflects a fundamental property of the brain to compensate in response to its environment” (Hearing Review).

When this happens, it means the auditory cortex is less able to process sound, so even if a patient receives hearing aids or a cochlear implant, their outcome depends on how much the auditory cortex has been “hijacked.”

This knowledge is very useful when planning future hearing treatment, with the goal being to target and rehabilitate low-functioning areas of the hearing center of the brain.

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Time Span of Brain Reorganization with Hearing Loss

The brain can start this reorganization process for someone with only mild hearing loss.

With age-related hearing loss, the hearing center of the brain shrinks, and other parts of the brain try to step in to compensate – parts that should still be doing important things like high-level decision-making instead.

All of this can overwhelm the brain and further the possibility of dementia, which is why regular hearing checks are so vital for those aged 55+.

Best Way to Avoid Cognitive Decline with Hearing Loss

These types of studies clearly highlight the importance of getting hearing treatment as early as possible – as soon as the first signs of hearing loss appear.

This is the most common way to prevent any cognitive loss, and it will keep the auditory cortex functioning as it should.

Hearing treatment prescribed by an audiologist is customized to treat a person’s exact hearing needs, and it shows a high rate of success in slowing or preventing decline.

Book a hearing assessment for you or a loved one to see how your hearing is doing, and we’ll give you the results immediately. Even if your hearing shows no signs of loss, we can use the results as a baseline for all future assessments and help keep your brain healthy.

We want to make sure your hearing is always treated properly. Feel free to contact us with any questions about treating your hearing or that of a loved one.

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Dr. Kelsi Mangrem AU.D, FAAA

Dr. Kelsi Mangrem received her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, as well as her Doctorate of Audiology from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC). Whether a patient, employee, or industry colleague, the philosophy of service to others resonates throughout her character.

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