You might already know that June is National Alzheimer’s Month. Each year, people across the country join together to spread awareness about this degenerative brain disease that influences memory and other cognitive abilities. What you might not know is Alzheimer’s is connected to something that affects 48 million Americans—hearing loss.
Here’s how they’re related!
We don’t hear with our ears, we actually “hear” with our brains. This means that, if you have a hearing loss, the connections and areas of the brain that are associated with sound reorganize themselves. Because of that, research says, untreated hearing loss is linked to memory impairment and deteriorating cognitive function1. Your hearing health is extremely important for your cognitive health! Take a look at the research.
A study done at the University of Colorado’s Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science analyzed neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning or experiences) and how it affects the brain as we age. Through their research, they discovered how the brain will rewire itself after a loss - incredible, but very detrimental to cognitive function2!
Dr. Arthur Wingfield, a professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University, is also researching this topic. Through his recent study he performed with other investigators, he discovered that those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss had poor performances on cognitive tests compared to those who did not have hearing loss.3 Yes, those with mild hearing loss also performed poorly!
Volunteers with hearing loss repeated cognition tests over a span of six years at Johns Hopkins. Their cognitive abilities actually declined 30%-40% faster than those whose hearing was “normal.”4 That number is no joke - their cognitive impairment started over three years sooner than those with “normal” hearing.
These are just three studies performed among dozens more.
So, when hearing loss strikes, other areas of your brain, such as the areas assisting sight or touch, will take over the part that normally processes hearing. It’s called “cross-modal cortical reorganization,” which means the brain has a tendency to compensate for sense loss.5 The brain basically rewires itself after a loss. That’s pretty neat, if you ask us!
But wait - what does this have to do with Alzheimer’s?
Since your brain rewires itself and the parts that are necessary for higher level thinking compensate for the loss of hearing, it takes away from your ability to retain information. This potentially could lead to dementia, as well as a higher risk of Alzheimer’s earlier in life. Even a mild hearing loss can significantly increase your chances of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Compelling stuff, right?
Treating hearing loss is one way you can take action against Alzheimer’s. Hearing aids and cochlear implants have been proven to effectively help with varying levels of hearing loss, from mild to profound. Utilizing this technology not only helps you hear better, but helps your brain work better too!
Get your hearing checked, folks. As this month is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, it’s a great time to take care of your hearing and brain health. Seek out your local EarQ provider - and share this article with your friends to educate them too!Schedule an Appointment