Imagine doing no physical activity, eating junk food for many years, and finding yourself in terrible shape with weight-related issues, and letting denial prevent you from action. Perhaps one day you would look in a mirror or see your reflection in a window or your relative shape in a group photo and finally resolve to join a gym.
Your initial visits to the gym would invariably involve challenges, but if you stuck with it and changed your eating habits, you would find that your physical health and appearance improved.
Procrastination about hearing loss
doesn’t work that way, and
can have severe ramifications
When a sense (taste, smell, sight, hearing, touch) is altered, the brain reorganizes and adjusts. In the case of poor hearers, researchers found that the gray matter density of the auditory areas was lower in people with decreased hearing ability, suggesting a link between hearing ability and brain volume/mass.
“As hearing ability declines with age, interventions such as hearing aids should be considered not only to improve hearing but to preserve the brain,” said lead author Jonathan Peelle, PhD, research associate in the Department of Neurology. “People hear differently, and those with even moderate hearing loss may have to work harder to understand complex sentences.”
In a pair of studies, researchers measured the relationship of hearing acuity to the brain, first measuring the brain’s response to increasingly complex sentences and then measuring cortical brain volume in auditory cortex. Older adults (60-77 years of age) with normal hearing for their age were evaluated to determine whether normal variations in hearing ability impacted the structure or function of the network of areas in the brain supporting speech comprehension.
The studies found that people with hearing loss showed less brain activity on functional MRI scans when listening to complex sentences. Poorer hearers also had less gray matter in the auditory cortex, suggesting that areas of the brain related to auditory processing may show accelerated atrophy when hearing ability declines.
In general, research suggests that hearing sensitivity has cascading consequences for the neural processes supporting both perception and cognition. Although the research was conducted in older adults, the findings also have implications for younger adults, including those concerned about listening to music at loud volumes. “Your hearing ability directly affects how the brain processes sounds, including speech,” says Dr. Peelle. “Preserving your hearing doesn’t only protect your ears, but also helps your brain perform at its best.”
The research appears in the latest edition of The Journal of Neuroscience and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Physicians should monitor hearing in patients as they age, noting that individuals who still fall within normal hearing ability may have increasing complaints of speech comprehension issues. Patients should talk to their physician or an audiologist if they are experiencing any difficulty hearing or understanding speech.
The real risk of allowing hearing to decline unabated is the possibility of auditory deprivation.
We’ve known for decades that the changes in the brain occur after substantial hearing loss and deafness. However, recent work demonstrated brain changes and cortical re-organization occurs even with mild Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL). The brain changes and re-organizes based on a mild degradation of the stimulus or a mild lack of audibility.
Auditory deprivation occurs when the brain’s function of changing sounds into words is disabled due to hearing loss over an extended period of time.
As an example, if someone’s hearing loss is measured at the moderate level, and no hearing aids are worn to compensate, the loss could very well continue and hearing over the course of that ten year denial period will worsen.
As a person’s hearing declines, the brain’s ability to transform sounds into words also declines, and if left unchecked, will finally become an irreversible condition. Auditory deprivation is the equivalent of taking a person from their home and dropping them in the middle of a place in which a different language is used. You may be able to hear the speech –though muffled –but your brain’s ability to transform the speech into context will be gone, and will stay gone.
You may feel that your hearing loss “isn’t that bad” or that you can put it off, but rather than risk the worst-case scenario, what you absolutely should do is to get your hearing tested annually, and resolve to do something about it, if you have hearing loss.
If you are in the New York City area, and need a hearing test, or would like to learn more about hearing aids, give us a call and we’ll set you up with an appointment. We accept most insurances, and we are passionate about helping people to be more aware and conscientious about their hearing health.
Audiological Diagnostics • We’re All Ears©
Offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens