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Treating Hearing Loss is Good for Your Brain and Overall Wellness

Updated: May 23

Sandra Delapenha, Audiologist


headshot of CHC audiologist Sandra Delapenha
Sandra Delapenha, CHC Audiologist

May is National Speech-Language-Hearing Month and Mental Health Awareness Month—which makes now the ideal time to consider the topic of hearing loss and the impact it can have on our mental and emotional health. It's an important message I hope will resonate with the 27 million Americans 50 years and older who have a hearing loss—especially those living with an untreated loss.


For many of us, hearing is vital in our day-to-day lives. We use our hearing to communicate, listen to our favorite music, watch television and navigate our environment. So, what happens when our hearing deteriorates and we experience hearing loss?

 

Hearing Loss and Brain Health


Our brain is a complex organ that controls our thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger and, yes, our hearing. The brain processes auditory information—everything that we hear. When there is hearing loss or disruption, the brain has to work harder, straining to hear and to fill in the gaps of information. Hearing loss causes the brain to receive less stimulation resulting in this common complaint: “I can hear but I don’t always understand what people say, especially in groups.”


MRI studies shows that with untreated hearing loss, the brain begins to change. Sounds/speech are processed in a specific area of the brain known as the temporal lobe. When hearing loss occurs, the brain reorganizes itself and puts the load of hearing into a different area of the brain called the frontal lobe. This reorganization is great BUT our frontal lobe is critical for memory and executive function (such as our behaviors). When this happens, one part of the brain takes on the work of two. Once hearing takes precedence, cognition begins to decline. 


Studies have also found an association between untreated hearing loss and a decrease in the gray matter in the brain. The gray matter enables us to control movement, memory and emotion. A decrease in our gray matter indicates a reduction in our neural processes, which can negatively impact our perception and cognition.


To sum this up, untreated hearing loss can take a serious toll on our brain health. It can cause serious significant brain atrophy that can lead to dementia and a faster rate of cognitive decline. Research suggests that the onset of cognitive decline in people with untreated hearing loss is 3.2 years sooner that in those with normal hearing.


Hearing Loss and Emotional Health


The impact of untreated hearing loss on our emotional health and well-being must be considered as well. Hearing loss puts us at an increased risk of social isolation, falls, depression, aggression, loneliness, anxiety, stress and low self-esteem. People with untreated hearing loss often withdraw from social events, concerned that they will not be able to hear and engage in the conversation.


My colleague Jeff Wax, Director of the Baker Family Emotional Health and Wellness Center, offers this additional perspective on hearing loss and its effect on our emotional well-being:


People with hearing loss can feel socially isolated as they are left out of conversations in the home or workplace. Often there is a lack of support and empathy from others. Many experiences can chip away at a person’s self-esteem and undermine confidence.

 

The hearing world is not always understanding of the impact of hearing loss in a person’s life. Stigmatizing messages can have a powerful impact on our self-image, leading to feelings of self-blame and inadequacy. People often start believing the emotional message of “I don’t matter.”


It's important to know and remember that these messages are not a reflection of our worth or abilities. We all matter, and we are all capable of achieving. So, let's reject these harmful messages and believe in ourselves. This ability to change our thought patterns is crucial for personal growth and development.


Build connections with supportive people who can be there for you. And don't hesitate to seek help from a supportive therapist.


Hearing Aids Promote Health and Well-Being


For adults with hearing loss, the good news is that treating hearing loss promotes brain health and enhances life in so many ways.


Treating hearing loss through the use of hearing aids allows the brain to work more effectively and efficiently, leading not only to an improvement in the quality of life but also increased longevity.


Studies indicate that the use of hearing aids may help to delay cognitive decline and slow the onset of dementia. Studies also show that the use of hearing aids may help to improve all areas of cognitive function—enhancing memory, ability to focus and information processing.



Treating hearing loss has numerous other benefits. It reduces your risk of loneliness, depression, aggression and falls; improves self-esteem; and bolsters your confidence during social interactions and while navigating your environment. You'll be better equipped to maintain your independence and be more in control of your life.

 

So take control of your hearing and brain health today! Contact the Center for Hearing and Communication in New York at 917-305-7766 or in Ft. Lauderdale at 954-601-1930 to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, and let us help you to begin your journey to better hearing and a healthy brain.



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