Hearing Loss and Cognition
When counseling patients about their hearing loss, I like to discuss two aspects: The noted or tangible communicative difficulties and the less noticeable potential cognitive issues associated with untreated hearing loss. It is a common assumption that as an individual experiences a reduction in hearing, he or she will have greater difficulty communicating with others. In this article, we will be looking at the “behind the scenes” issues of how untreated hearing loss can have more than communicative implications on overall cognition and brain health.
Lack of Auditory Stimulation
Auditory information is processed in specific portions of our brain and when a hearing loss is present those portions of the brain are not being stimulated as they should. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D. of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has conducted significant research on the correlation between hearing loss and cognition. In Dr. Lin’s research, he looks at the difference in brain structure changes between individuals with normal hearing and those with hearing loss. Dr. Lin indicates that the lack of auditory stimulation can cause the brain to atrophy at increased rates.
Changes in Cognition
The effects of these changes to the brain are often seen in respect to a patient’s Word Recognition testing. Word Recognition testing measures a patient’s ability to correctly identify and repeat an open set word list. It is common to see a patient’s score drop over time even if his hearing loss remains stable. Patients who are consistent with their use of hearing aids give themselves the best opportunity to prolong such a decline. Hearing aids are not intended to “fix” a hearing loss but rather to help patients compensate as best as possible and to help maintain stimulation to the brain.
In his research on the changes hearing loss may have on the structures of the brain, Dr. Lin concluded, “If you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.” These underlying effects of hearing loss are often overlooked when discussing recommendations for hearing help. I encourage patients to talk with their audiologist or other healthcare professionals about the relationship between hearing loss and cognition.
If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication and are ready talk about options for improving auditory stimulation, call ENT Audiology Center at (325) 437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation. ENT Audiology Center, “Helping You Hear Better So You Can Live Life Better.”