Many people think that leaving hearing loss untreated isn’t a big deal. On the average, a person waits seven years from when they first notice some hearing issues until when they seek a hearing diagnosis. Sadly, letting hearing impairment go untreated can have significant and lasting consequences. Research is gaining a better understanding of how linked healthy hearing is to healthy cognitive function.
Neuroplasticity is a fairly new concept in the neurosciences, relating to the brains ability to change and reorganize over time. Where it was once thought that the connections and functionality of the human brain remained relatively static throughout a lifespan, it is now known this is not the case. In most cases the brain can reorganize itself to compensate for changes in senses, such as hearing loss.
In fact, scientists and researchers are creating a pretty clear picture of what happens to the brain when hearing loss is present. When important auditory information is missing, the brain essentially re-writes the way it hears. It draws resources from other areas of cognitive functioning to fill in the gaps in comprehension. While these compensatory responses help us better piece together sound, they also shortchange other cognitive needs, like balance and coordination.
Cross Modal Reorganization
As hearing loss progresses, the brain is fundamentally rewriting the way it hears in a process called cross-modal cortical reorganization. This phenomenon means that when our brain is unable to use areas normally devoted to hearing, those areas can be reorganized towards other senses such as vision. Simultaneously, other areas of the brain become activated to piece together fragmented hearing, drawing cognitive resources away from other essential activities.
The reorganizing of the brain is done in an effort to smooth over missing information, but is ultimately directly linked to cognitive decline. Hearing loss shortchanges the brains available resources, essentially making us devote far more of our mental processes to hearing than is standard, leaving the rest of our mental functioning in a lurch.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Health
Untreated hearing loss also can create a feedback loop where weakened hearing continues to worsen. When areas of the mind once devoted to hearing are appropriated for other functions, it further deteriorates our hearing, which contributes to more cognitive challenges.
Because of the way our mind compensates for lost hearing, cognitive resources can be drained. This exhaustion of cognitive ability has serious repercussions throughout our health. Hearing loss has been directly linked to diseases of cognitive decline, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Untreated hearing loss also greatly increases a person’s risk of having a falling accident, as mental resources directed toward hearing are pulled away from balance and coordination skills.
Treating Hearing Loss
The news is not all bad, however. It’s important to remember that treating hearing loss helps preserve cognitive health and function. In a recent French study following subjects with cochlear implants, it was shown that as sound and speech comprehension increased, so did other cognitive skills.
While most hearing loss cannot be reversed, it can be effectively treated. Furthermore, treatment of hearing loss at any level can help remove some of the burden placed upon cognitive functioning by hearing loss.
It pays off to act fast on hearing loss. If you experience minor hearing issues and have been diagnosed with mild or moderate hearing impairment, your hearing will be the most responsive to treatment. Catching your hearing loss early means that the reorganization of your brains hearing processes will be minimal and adapting to hearing treatments will feel easier and more natural than with delayed treatment.
Even if you have put off responding to hearing issues, treatment can still offer cognitive and quality of life benefits. Modern hearing treatment takes advantage of the newest technologies to deliver better and clearer sound. Today’s hearing aids are customizable to match your specific hearing challenges and help alleviate the mental strain and social stresses that hearing loss can cause.
Hearing Health Care Center
When you notice changes to the way you hear, don’t wait – set up an appointment with Hearing Health Care Center. At Hearing Health Care Center, we’re ready to help open up your path to hearing wellness with personal care attuned to your needs. From audiological examinations to custom hearing aid fittings and maintenance, Hearing Health Care Center is ready to help you hear your very best.