Hearing loss can bring a lot of change to your life. Of course, there’s the major change of not being able to hear all of the sounds that you once did. Untreated hearing loss can also alter your relationships with your spouse, family, friends, and coworkers, as you can no longer hear and understand conversations clearly. You may often ask people to repeat themselves or talk louder, which can lead to frustration on both sides. You might even find yourself avoiding social situations, especially in loud settings, to avoid problems with hearing and understanding conversation. You may not be able to enjoy sounds you once did, like music, TV, and nature sounds. If you decide to treat your hearing loss and wear hearing aids, that is a change too.
All of these changes are real and can create shifts in your life. However, did you know that hearing loss can also change your brain? Recent research, conducted over several years by Johns Hopkins University, The Ohio State University, and other institutions, has revealed that hearing loss causes changes to your brain that have been linked to cognitive decline and even dementia.
The greatest takeaway message from this research is that if you believe you may be experiencing hearing loss, treat your hearing loss! Getting a hearing test is painless and usually takes half an hour or less. From this hearing test, your hearing professional will be able to diagnose any hearing loss and present you with options to treat your hearing loss. Hearing aids are a common and effective way to treat hearing loss. In fact, studies have shown that treating hearing loss by wearing hearing aids reduces memory loss and is associated with a delayed diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It is not clear yet whether using hearing aids can completely prevent the brain changes that are linked to memory loss and cognitive decline, but it can slow this process.
Stanford University’s clinical instructor of otolaryngology, Yona Vaisbuch, MD, explained in the 2018 Stanford Medicine publication Listening that, “With time, those brain changes will not be reversible. That’s why we need to treat hearing loss as soon as possible.” Likewise, Dr. Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins recommends treating hearing loss “sooner rather than later…before these brain structural changes take place.” As noted by Dr. Vaisbuch, the brain changes that occur due to untreated hearing loss can become permanent. At that point, just beginning to wear hearing aids may be too little, too late when it comes to brain structure and cognitive decline.
Of course, simply having your hearing tested and getting hearing aids is not enough if you do not actually use your hearing aids! Wearing your hearing aids all day, every day is the best way to get used to them and enjoy their benefits. If you feel something is wrong with your hearing aids—for example, if they are uncomfortable or if the settings need to be adjusted—be sure to reach out to your hearing aid professional.
If you believe that you might have hearing loss, or if you want to learn more about how treating hearing loss can prevent changes to your brain, we invite you to contact our hearing practice today. We are eager to speak with you!