Hearing Health is Brain Health

By: Sean Lennox, Doctor of Audiology and Audiologist. AuD. MSc. BSc.
Bright Hearing and Tinnitus Centre

“I think I will just wait; I mean I have lived with this hearing loss for so long what is the big deal?” This is a refrain used by some people looking to get out of our office after we recommend hearing aids. We often observe that the long- term consequences of untreated hearing loss are overlooked and underestimated by those noticing a hearing problem. This is why I would like to review the current established links between hearing loss and future risk of cognitive decline. The short-term impact of hearing loss should be motivation enough to want to hear better, but this is quite often not the case. How could this be? well the immediate ramifications are sometimes a little less clear because hearing loss can be causing tension in communication with loved ones well before the person with hearing loss is aware. Hearing loss affects others more than it affects you. I always say that you “do not know what you are NOT hearing” and this is so true for people with emerging hearing difficulties. You might think that you are able to compensate by asking for repetitions constantly, guessing, bluffing, or dominating a conversation to control the topic. At some point though these strategies to compensate become tedious and tiring for your friends and family and it is time to get your hearing checked. The Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Specialist completes a hearing test and reviews the results. Your hearing loss is much more significant than you expected and hearing aids as well as other assistive listening technologies are being recommended. So, let’s go back to, “I think I will just wait; I mean I have lived with this hearing loss for so long what is the big deal?”

The 4 keys to maintaining your brain health that are within our control include: social engagement, dance/music appreciation, and
exercise. The fourth and final key is also the largest and most important modifiable lifestyle risk factor for future brain health, and that is optimizing your hearing as much as possible. Hearing loss negatively affects your ability and urge to engage socially. No matter how well you are compensating your hearing loss is negatively affecting your ability to interact socially. When you have a hearing impairment it is much more difficult to filter out background noise and focus on a conversation. The effort level to communicate becomes straining and listening fatigue sets in. This mental strain causes many people with hearing loss to stop
going out and engaging socially. Hearing loss because it causes people to isolate themselves socially, can also negatively affect overall mental health leading to social anxiety and depression. Hearing loss affects your cognition and memory. It is very difficult to understand and remember something you are not hearing properly. You ask for many repetitions but still cannot get that
last digit or understand a name. Your ability to process information through hearing slows as you try to piece the puzzle together and get lost during a conversation. Hearing loss in real-time slows down your processing speed, limits your short-term memory which ultimately leads to poor long-term memory recall. Auditory deprivation is the lack of stimulation to our brain resulting from a hearing loss. Hearing loss at the end of the day is an information loss meaning you are picking up less and activating your brain much less than a person with normal hearing. The current line of thought regarding hearing loss and probability of all-cause
dementia is a lack of auditory stimulation or use of neural pathways leads to a degradation of those same pathways. When it comes to our brain it really is use it or lose it. Research by Lin et al (2011 and 2013) found that your probability of all-cause dementia is 3-5 times higher if you have an untreated moderate to severe hearing impairment. Hearing better is not just going to help you right now, but it helps you control a rather large risk factor in protecting your long-term brain health. Take the control of your hearing health today by contacting Bright Hearing and Tinnitus Centre today at 613-270-3013 or visit our website to
book online at brighthearing.ca

Lin FR, Metter EJ, O’Brien RJ, Resnick SM, Zonderman AB, Ferrucci L. Hearing loss and incident dementia. Arch Neurol. 2011;68(2):214–220.

Lin FR, Yaffe K, Xia J, Xue Q, Harris TB, Purchase- Helzner E, Satterfield S, Ayonayon HN, Ferrucci L, Simonsick EM, Health ABC Study Group. Hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(4):293–299.