Our bodies systems are all connected, relying on consistent performance to remain healthy. Despite this, many of us continue to treat individual health complaints such as hearing loss as standalone issues. Luckily, things are starting to change, and clear evidence of how hearing loss impacts the brain is just one recent example of why it’s vital to seek treatment as soon as issues arise.

Despite this, many of us still aren’t aware of how hearing and brain health correlates, a fact that leaves many of us waiting as long as seven years on average before seeking the help that we need. This can have a negative impact on our brains for a range of reasons. But, how exactly do the two issues relate, and how could treatment for hearing loss help to support your brain in the long term? 

Hearing and brain function

Before we can understand the link between hearing loss and healthy brain functioning, it’s vital to look at the role that the brain plays in hearing in general. After all, most of us assume that hearing starts and ends in the ear, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

In fact, hearing as we know it is a result of our brain’s auditory system making sense of the sound vibrations that initially travel through the ear. These vibrations are transferred into electrical impulses once they reach the cochlea in the inner ear, and it’s these impulses that ultimately create sound. 

The link between hearing and neuroplasticity

This link is nothing new, but research into its impact is still very much ongoing, especially with regards to how hearing loss affects healthy brain function. Most recently, the discovery of something called neuroplasticity has revealed that, far from being static as we’ve always believed, the brain can change and reorganize functions to meet ongoing challenges like hearing loss. 

Researchers at the University of Colorado tested this theory by studying brain ECGs from a number of adults and children experiencing hearing loss. When music was played to the participants, researchers noticed that their brain’s auditory centers remained inactive, while parts of the brain that aren’t commonly associated with hearing took over instead. This form of cross-modal reorganization quite literally rewires the brain to compensate for hearing difficulties. 

What hearing loss means for brain health

In theory, cross-modal reorganization is the brain’s attempt to cover and accommodate for hearing loss, which would be a good thing if it weren’t for the fact that it leads to significant cognitive issues elsewhere. 

Most notably, experts are finding links between hearing loss and brain function, including:

  • Dementia: Individuals with hearing loss are around five times more likely to develop dementia. In fact, in a recent study of twelve dementia risk factors, hearing loss was the  contributor at eight percent, a figure that’s especially worrying seeing as hearing loss also increases the chances of other risk factors including social isolation and depression
  • Cognitive decline: While cross-modal reorganization ultimately aims to avoid cognitive decline, it doesn’t really achieve that goal. In fact, experts have found that hearing overcompensation in areas of the brain that are typically reserved for higher cognitive functioning can lead to confusion, lack of concentration and increased risks of general decline. 

How treating hearing loss supports your brain

As much as hearing loss can spell trouble for cognitive functioning in our brains, seeking treatment the moment we notice a problem with our hearing can have a significant impact on supporting our brains moving forward.

Specifically, treatments such as hearing aids which keep sound travelling to our brain’s auditory centers can work to altogether prevent issues such as cross-modal reorganization from occurring if utilized early enough. 

The benefits of this speak for themselves, ensuring that cognitive function continues to operate within a healthy realm. It’s even thought that as many as one in ten cases of dementia could be prevented with the help of treatments like these. 

Keep your brain healthy with the help of Clifton Springs Hearing Center

Whether you’re just now noticing issues or have been putting off making an appointment for a while, our friendly team here at Clifton Springs Hearing Center is on hand to help. We pride ourselves in turning hearing aids into tools rather than weaknesses and never is that more the case than where the assurance of ongoing healthy brain functioning is concerned. Get in touch to book an appointment or discuss your needs today at 315-496-4314.