A common misconception about hearing loss is that it only affects communication and your social life. And for sure, by not hearing everything, you struggle with speech clarity and therefore communicating with people. But that’s not where it ends. Your hearing is linked to your balance, for example. It’s even an important sense we use just to keep safe by hearing fire alarms or cars on the road. But more than that, it directly affects your brain health and can have repercussions if ignored for too long.
The impact of hearing loss.
To understand the impact of hearing loss on the brain, we first need to understand the hearing process. As a “crash course”, the sound is received into the ear, funnelled through the ear canal and pushed into the eardrum. It follows through the small bones of the middle ear to then bounce into the inner ear. There, the impulses are passed through the cochlea and turned into signals which are eventually fed to the brain. This is where things become interesting.
How it works.
The brain receives the signals and translates them into the actual understanding of the sound. But we are constantly put in some degree of sound environment each and every day. Even sitting in a quiet office, you are usually exposed to some 30-40 decibels of background noise. You’re just unaware of it. And that’s because the brain filters through the sounds and picks out the ones you want to hear. That’s why people living near train tracks often stop “hearing” the trains go by. It’s the difference between “hearing” and “listening”.
So how is any of this relevant? Well, the brain is like a big smart muscle, with much of the same difficulties as one. When you have hearing loss, your brain stops receiving all the signals it’s used to. Eventually, it loses the habit and ability to filter through sounds to give only the important stuff. Much like muscles losing strength and ability when not being trained for a while. And much like muscles going into atrophy when not being used for too long, the brain suffers too.
This is where the real problems occur. For starters, your brain has to fill in the gaps from the signals it isn’t receiving. This causes a strain which can lead to difficulty concentrating and increased mental load. The higher the mental load, the more limited our ability to perform and capacity to remember becomes. You can start to struggle with learning and even making decisions as a consequence.
More than this, though, our brain needs to be stimulated with these signals and forced into functioning. When we don’t feed it enough signals for too long, the pathways can start to shut down. Remember how our hearing is linked to our sense of balance? Well, put those neural pathways to sleep, and you increase the risk of losing balance and falling. And the most notable consequence of reduced brain exercise, of course, is an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The good news is, just like with your muscles, all you need is to give your brain a bit of exercise. In this case, it comes in the form of extra sounds, and the best way, of course, are hearing aids. Wearing hearing aids, even for only a couple of hours each day, gives your brain the signals it needs. It helps keep the pathways active and can help reduce the aforementioned risks to your health. Wearing hearing aids more often will also jumpstart the filtering function of the brain again and help with concentration. In fact, certain hearing aid brands design their devices to specifically feed these sounds correctly and make the brain work out!
So if you do have a hearing loss but feel you can deal with the communication hardships, think again. There’s more to hearing loss than just the social side of your life, with sometimes dire long-term consequences. So if you’d like to discuss this some more or would like to try some devices, give us a call. It’ll be the best workout you’ve ever had!