Confusion & hearing loss: is there a link?
Hearing loss is one of the most common health concerns in the world. An estimated two-thirds of adults over the age of 70 and one-third of adults younger than 60 have hearing loss. Recent research suggests that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to experience symptoms of cognitive decline. A Johns Hopkins study found that cognitive diminishment was 30-40 percent greater in seniors with hearing loss.
Hearing is a partnership between your ears and your brain
When you listen to someone speak, your brain processes the incoming sounds so you can understand and make sense of what you hear. Normally, our brains are great at multi-tasking and doing more than one job at a time. Researchers refer to this as cognitive load. But when hearing loss is left untreated, the incoming signals are not clear, and the brain has to work harder to process them, increasing cognitive load and listening fatigue.
With sensorineural or nerve-type hearing loss (the most common type), the auditory nerve or inner ear responsible for sending incoming signals to the brain is impaired and the incoming signal gets garbled. This is why many people with hearing loss will say that they can hear when you’re talking, but they have difficulty understanding what you’re saying.
When our brain requires more resources to decode the incoming signals, there are fewer resources available for other brain functions. In other words, if you have untreated hearing loss, your brain is so busy trying to decipher incoming sound that other tasks such as memory and comprehension can suffer.
Hearing aids can help
The good news is that hearing aids can help. Hearing aids are the most common and most effective treatment for sensorineural (nerve) hearing loss. In addition to improving communication, hearing aids can help reduce mental fatigue, decrease feelings of isolation and depression, and improve memory, attention and focus by making hearing easier and less effortful.
Waiting is not worth it
Hearing professionals recognize the significant benefit of treating hearing loss early. It is often referred to as a “use it or lose it” phenomenon. The longer your hearing loss is left untreated, the harder it is for your auditory nerve to send clear incoming signals to your brain, making understanding what you hear more difficult. Generally, the sooner you treat your hearing loss with hearing aids, the better your treatment outcome will be.