What is the Link Between Untreated Hearing Loss and Your Brain?

Our hearing and our brains are closely connected. We rely on our brains to process sounds from our ears in order to hear.

Each year, June is celebrated as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. This is a cause close to our hearts, given the connection between your brain and your ability to hear. Research is increasingly showing links between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline.

The Connection Between Hearing & Your Brain

Before we explore how protecting your hearing can protect your brain, we need to understand how your hearing and your brain are connected. It may surprise you to learn that we hear with our brains, not with our ears.

We have an extremely complex hearing system that can essentially be split into two parts: the peripheral hearing system and the central hearing system.

The three main parts that make up your ear are part of the peripheral hearing system:

  1. Outer Ear – Sound waves are first captured here. Your outer ear is composed of the pinna (sometimes referenced as the auricle), eardrum and ear canal.
  2. Middle Ear – This is a small, air-filled space containing three tiny bones known collectively as the ossicles: the malleus, incus and stapes.
  3. Inner Ear – Your inner ear has organs designed for balance and hearing. It also contains your cochlea, which is the part of your inner ear responsible for hearing. The cochlea has thousands of tiny hair cells, and is a distinctive snail-like shape. It connects via the auditory nerve to your central hearing system, and is filled with fluid that plays an important role in hearing.

The auditory nerve is part of the central hearing system. Your central hearing system is a complex pathway to your brain stem, and then on to the auditory cortex of your brain.

When you’re hearing sounds in your environment, what you’re actually ‘hearing’ are sound waves, invisible vibrations that travel through the air. Most sounds have unique sound waves that are sent in every direction.

When a sound wave hits your ear, the pinna in both of your ears direct the sounds into your ear canals. The vibrations made by the sound wave cause your eardrum to vibrate. This vibration then causes the tiny bones, or ossicles, in your middle ear to move. This movement helps to transmit the sound waves into your cochlea. The thousands of hair cells in your cochlea convert the vibrations into electrical signals. These signals are transmitted to your brain through the auditory nerve.

At this point, your brain will interpret the sound. You’ll identify what it is that you’re hearing, as well as the direction that the sound originated from. It’s truly a remarkable process.

Link Between Untreated Hearing Loss and Your Brain

Untreated hearing loss can have an impact on your brain. Some of the ways that hearing loss impacts your brain are:

  • Social isolation. Many with an untreated hearing loss withdraw from social environments or situations where they may struggle to hear. The resulting social isolation is linked to higher rates of cognitive decline due to a reduction in the amount and quality of brain stimulation.
  • A study of MRI scans showed that individuals with hearing loss can experience a faster decline of brain volume. The findings outlined that individuals with hearing loss utilize their brain differently to those with normal hearing. This results in the brain cells that aren’t being used shrinking.
  • Hearing loss can require repeated, at times intense, concentration to hear. This can put excess strain and stress on cognitive function. When this occurs over a prolonged period, it can be fatiguing and may result in memory issues.

Despite research linking untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline, there is hope. The research also shows that treating your hearing loss with hearing aids can improve cognitive function.

Get a Hearing Assessment at Hearing Aid Specialists of CT

A hearing assessment is one of the best ways to look after your hearing health. Annual assessments can help detect changes in your hearing. Early detection can help reduce the risks of untreated hearing loss. Book in your hearing assessment with the hearing healthcare specialists at Hearing Aid Specialists of CT today. Call 888-657-5768 today, or click here to book an appointment online.

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The purpose of this hearing assessment and/or demonstration is for hearing wellness and to determine if the consumer may benefit from using hearing aids, which may include selling and fitting hearing aids. Products demonstrated may differ from products sold. Assessment conclusion is not a medical diagnosis and further testing may be required to diagnose hearing loss. The use of any hearing aid may not fully restore normal hearing and does not prevent future hearing loss. Hearing instruments may not meet the needs of all hearing-impaired individuals.