A lot of people with hearing loss do not take it seriously. We may joke that “other people just mumble” or “I have selective hearing, that’s all”. But the truth is, hearing loss is a condition that should not be ignored.
Health consequences of hearing loss extend to the brain
Previous studies have shown that there are health consequences of hearing loss, such as an increased risk of dementia, falls, and overall diminished physical and psychological health. A recent study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging found that hearing loss can lead to accelerated brain tissue loss.
Researcher Frank Lin M.D., Ph.D. compared the brain changes of adults with normal hearing and adults with hearing loss from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. 126 participants in the study had yearly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for up to 10 years. Each participant also had yearly physicals and hearing tests.
Analysis of the participants’ MRIs showed that those adults with hearing loss at the start of the study had accelerated brain tissue loss (atrophy) compared with participants with normal hearing. Those with hearing loss lost an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue or more each year compared with those with normal hearing. The area in which the most brain tissue loss occurred was in the temporal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for processing sound and speech.
Lin notes that even though the brain tissue loss seen in this study is more localized to the temporal cortex area, those parts do not work alone and can also play a role in loss of memory and sensory integration. This study offers even more evidence that hearing loss can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Auditory deprivation has consequences
Loss of brain tissue in the temporal region was not a surprise according to researcher, Lin. He notes that atrophy is likely attributed to an “impoverished” auditory cortex. It goes back to the “use it or lose it” principle. Because of the hearing loss, that area of the brain is not receiving as much stimulation and the function begins to deteriorate over time.
These findings create a greater urgency for treating hearing loss rather than just “living with it”. If you suspect a hearing loss, it is important to get a hearing test sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is detected, you want to treat it before these brain changes occur.
What to do if you suspect a hearing loss
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends a hearing screening every 10 years up to age 50 and then every 3 years thereafter. If you are at a higher risk for hearing loss, such as being exposed to loud noise or having a significant family history of hearing loss, you should be tested more frequently.
A hearing test is an easy thing to do. It takes approximately 30 minutes and is performed by an Audiologist who will ask you to respond to soft tones and speech when heard. If you suspect a hearing loss, there is no reason to delay having your hearing evaluated. This study highlights the importance of doing something about your hearing loss.