Anyone who has suffered some sort of hearing loss can tell you that experience alone is an unpleasant, sometimes life-changing event. However, many people do not understand that hearing loss may be an isolated health issue, or that it may indicate to or answer questions about a different health issue the patient may be experiencing. Just like dental and eye exams, regular hearing exams do more than just evaluate your ear health. They help provide an additional window to your overall health, as several bodily functions connect at the ear. The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the ears can be the window to your mind.
It would make sense that hearing loss can lead to socialization issues. It can be that the less one can hear others around him or her, the less he or she wants to be around people. Another issue that causes socialization issues is memory loss and dementia. Patients with memory loss or dementia cannot remember conversations and often feel embarrassed; therefore, they may stay away from social situations if possible. Research found that hearing loss can also be correlated to memory loss and dementia. A 2011 study conducted by Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins University, showed that patients who suffered dramatic initial hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia as compared to others who did not experience a significant hearing loss. Then, in 2013, his study showed that after six years, the 77-year-old subjects who began the study with significant hearing loss were 24% more likely to have diminished cognitive functions, as compared with the 77-year-olds who began the study within the normal hearing range. While this study does not mean hearing loss is a guarantee for a future dementia diagnosis, it does indicate that the probability of a dementia diagnosis is higher when hearing loss is a factor.
It also would make sense that if you do not stimulate your brain with words, word understanding will become poorer over time. Research with people who utilize a cochlear implant found that those people who achieve better success are people who have a shorter duration of hearing loss (deafness) than people who have gone for a long time with untreated loss. (Blamey et. Al. 2013) If you wait a significant amount of time before you treat a serious hearing loss as opposed to treating your loss right away the chances the words you hear will be harder to understand. Aural rehabilitation can help re-train your brain to learn these words again.
Another clear connection to hearing loss and the brain is something as simple as auditory acuity. If you can’t hear well, then how can you remember and thus memory can be impacted. Research has found that when a person does not use the right encoding processes then the ability to appropriately file into memory is impaired. (Wingfield et. Al. 2006)
In general not hearing well or clearly can lead to overall unhealthy cognitive functioning and hence behaviors. Hearing is if not one of the most important senses you have. These health issues alone are great reasons to stay on top of your scheduled hearing tests. You may find that some of the health-related issues you are experiencing are actually related to your hearing issues. As a result, an audiologist can help become an invaluable piece to your treatment plan. If you are not experiencing these health issues yet, you may still wish to be preventative and stay on top of your hearing to be able to catch the first signs of a related health issue. To schedule your hearing test with a trained audiologist, contact Chears Audiology at (952) 767-0672 today.