Did you know hearing is strongly connected with brain health and function? As we age, it’s common for hearing to decline, and research strongly suggests that a decline in hearing is also associated with a decline in cognitive function.1 In fact, hearing loss is considered a modifiable risk factor for dementia. This means that although hearing loss increases one’s risk of dementia, there are things we can do to modify or reduce that risk.
How Hearing is Connected to the Brain
The process of hearing involves pressure waves that travel through the ear and stimulate tiny hair cells in the inner ear, which translate those waves into signals the brain can interpret. These signals travel directly to the auditory cortex of the brain where we then process the pressure waves from our ears into sounds that we register in our minds. Thus, when our ability to process sounds is impaired, it has direct implications on the brain.
It is thought that hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline because the parts of the brain involved in hearing have to work extra hard to decipher the signals they receive from our ears, which means other parts of the brain involved in memory and learning have reduced activity.2 Some also believe that the combination of hearing loss and cognitive decline leads to more decline in overall brain function, including brain shrinking.2
Age-related hearing loss is very common, with about 40% of people over age 50 experiencing some hearing loss, and over 70% of those over age 70 having hearing loss. Thus, hearing loss is a normal part of the aging process. Reduced ability to hear can have numerous implications on one’s ability to interact with the world, since we use our ability to hear continuously as we interact in our day-to-day life. Diminished hearing can lead to social isolation due to difficulties in carrying out conversations with others and general communication challenges. Not surprisingly, social isolation is also a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia, which could contribute to more decline in brain function. Although hearing loss presents risks, there are many things you can do to reduce the impact of hearing loss on cognition.
Why it’s Important to Talk to an Audiologist for Both Hearing and Cognition
Audiologists are healthcare professionals who have multiple roles that include not only hearing, but also behavior and communication. Audiologists help identify and treat hearing, balance, tinnitus, and other auditory disorders. They assess options for hearing aids and cochlear implants and provide fitting, programming, and audiologic rehabilitation to ensure the best possible outcomes for persons with hearing loss. They are essential for making sure hearing technology and hearing aids are precisely tuned for each individual. This way, you can cognitively interact optimally with the world around you.
Audiologists are increasingly becoming the first line of defense against cognitive decline, with many audiology clinics actively providing cognitive assessments alongside hearing-related healthcare. So, audiologists are an important piece of your overall health and brain health!
Combining hearing technology and factors like the MIND diet can be a very potent defense against cognitive decline.
There are things you can do today to best support your hearing and brain health and prevent the risk of Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline. Start with the suggestions above and consider the following resources.
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We hope this inspires you to take action not only for your hearing, but also for your cognitive health and nutrition!
— From your friends at Echo Hearing and NeuroReserve!
- Golub JS, Brickman AM, Ciarleglio AJ, Schupf N, Luchsinger JA. Association of Subclinical Hearing Loss With Cognitive Performance. JAMA Otolaryngol Neck Surg. 2020;146(1):57-67. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2019.3375
- Slade K, Plack CJ, Nuttall HE. The Effects of Age-Related Hearing Loss on the Brain and Cognitive Function. Trends Neurosci. 2020;43(10):810-821. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2020.07.005
- Yeo BSY, Song HJJMD, Toh EMS, et al. Association of Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants With Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Neurol. 2023;80(2):134-141. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2022.4427
- Sabbagh MN, Perez A, Holland TM, et al. Primary prevention recommendations to reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2022;18(8):1569-1579. doi:10.1002/alz.12535
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2015;11(9):1015-1022. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2015;11(9):1007-1014. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009