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Hearing Loss and Cognition

Ongoing research reveals that hearing loss and cognition are intricately connected. Numerous peer-reviewed articles reference years of studies linking the two; however, much is still to be discovered. Lately I have discussed this concept with many patients who have never known the deep connection between their ears and their brain. 

Do you yourself or someone you know and love struggle with untreated hearing loss? A few common symptoms of untreated hearing loss are as follows; 

  • You can hear, but you can’t quite understand

  • You perceive family members and friends to ‘mumble’

  • You frequently misunderstand those around you (I.e., you may hear sipand they said sit)

  • You may have difficulty understanding all the words in a conversation whether it be in person or on the telephone

  • You have trouble understanding conversation in the presence of background noise (I.e., restaurants, family gatherings)

  • You experience ringing(tinnitus) in your ear(s)

If you or someone you love experiences any of the above, this could be indicative of some degree of hearing loss. Current research tells us that the greater amount of untreated hearing loss we experience equates to a greater increase inlistening effort. Listening effort can be described as ‘straining’ to hear or the difficulty we experience while trying to understand a conversation (with the presence of hearing loss). Therefore, our focus of “brain energy” to decipher distinct speech sounds in our every day to day conversations. When we utilize this energy towards hearing, we then in return have less energy to utilize towards basic cognitive tasks such as remembering phone numbers or our family’s favorite recipe. Audiological research shows us that by treating permanent (Sensorineural) hearing loss through prescriptively fit amplification (hearing aids), overall listening effort is dramatically reduced. As a result, we have supplementary resources to be used for cognitive function, which can reduce the risk of Dementia. Due to the aging process, neural degeneration can begin as early as age 25 which is why we must do what we can to protect and preserve our brain’s functionality to the best of our ability. We can help achieve this by maintaining healthy hearing!