Being one of our vital five senses, hearing loss can be incredibly frustrating — both for the person experiencing it and their family and friends.
However, hearing loss consequences don’t stop at the ear. According to research from Johns Hopkins University, hearing loss may contribute to various other health problems, from walking issues to cognitive decline.
Addressing hearing loss as early as possible can help mitigate said problems and help the individual with hearing loss maintain their independence.
Ears: Beyond Hearing
The most well-known purpose of our ears is hearing. However, ears are also largely responsible for our sense of balance.
See, our ears contain special fluids inside the ear canal, which is also lined with tiny, near-microscopic hairs.
When our head moves, the fluid shifts around and makes the hairs move back and forth. When these hairs move, it sends impulses to the brain via the vestibular nerve, part of the vestibulocochlear cranial nerve.
With that in mind, it’s easy to understand how hearing loss can eventually lead to problems like walking issues and potential falls. Losing hearing makes your brain work that much harder to process sound, too. As a result, your brain has less subconscious processing power to make sure you’re walking safely.
Hearing Loss and Brain Atrophy
As of now, there are no definitive studies or evidence demonstrating a direct link between hearing loss and cognitive decline or dementia. However, researchers are investigating several potential connections.
In particular, they’ve narrowed things down to two potential reasons.
One is the mental processing issue mentioned earlier. When the brain has to work harder just to hear, it may tap other areas of the brain — such as those associated with memory — to help with understanding and processing sounds.
Researchers suspect this might accelerate cognitive decline.
The other cause is social: hearing loss increases social isolation, which eventually harms the brain.
People with hearing loss may not find social activities very enjoyable. It can be hard to have a conversation, attend a sporting event, watch a movie, and participate in similar social activities when you struggle to hear.
Such difficulties may lead those with hearing loss to socialize less. This isolation could lead to anxiety, depression, and even cognitive decline, among other mental health issues.
Hearing Aids Could Help the Brain
Once hearing has been damaged, you can’t restore it naturally in a large majority of cases. However, hearing aids can get that hearing back. In doing so, it reduces the burden that hearing loss puts on the brain.
In fact, some studies have linked hearing aids to a lower risk of depression, dementia, and falls. Of course, hearing aids can also improve mental health by allowing those with hearing loss to once again enjoy social activities without the frustrating lack of hearing.
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