- Musicians & Hearing Loss - June 17, 2021
- Building Connections | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month - May 14, 2021
- Going Digital with Your Hearing Aids - April 16, 2021
You may think that hearing loss is only an ear issue but it is much more complicated than that. While the fragile hairs and nerves of our inner ear, which pick up sound, it is the job of the brain to interpret this information. In this way, brain health and hearing health are very much entwined.
If our brains are not able to receive enough information, we struggle to understand what is being communicated. If allowed to progress, this can create a host of mental, emotional and physical health issues down the road.
Hearing with Your Brain
Hearing is not only the mechanics of your ears but also the cognitive process of interpretation. Your brain receives information and deciphers language and sounds. It detects what direction sounds are coming from, how quickly they are approaching as well as identifying the content and source.
Sound is made up essentially of vibrations, which are picked up by the tympanic membrane of the inner ear. More commonly known as the eardrum, the tympanic membrane transmits sound to the auditory ossicles, which are tiny bones in the middle ear. Vibration of the middle ear is sent to the inner ear, which houses tiny hairs called cilia encased in fluid. The cilia then converts the sound waves into electrical impulses which are sent up through the auditory nerve into the brain.
Sound has a long journey from its inception to your brain but this process often happens in less than a second when your ears are functioning properly.
Adapting to Hearing Loss
Hearing loss most commonly occurs due to the natural breakdown of the inner ear due to old age. Other common causes include exposure to loud noise: either a low volume of excessive noise over years or an extreme level in a matter of seconds.
Head trauma, chronic ear infections and certain medications are also common culprits of hearing loss. All of these causes of hearing loss can damage or destroy the tiny cells of the inner ear creating a situation where less information is being sent to the brain.
As damage occurs often it is certain tones or pitches, which are undecipherable by the brain. This can make hearing loss tricky to self diagnose as it can sneak up and create subtle miscommunication issues which are often written off at first or denied.
Hearing loss and Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize by forming new neural pathways throughout a lifetime. This allows for nerve cells in the brain to adapt from injury and disease, adapting to new conditions.
Children naturally have a high level of neuroplasticity as they are constantly challenged to develop and adapt, but as we grow older the brain’s pathways become more set in their ways.
When hearing loss sets in, this triggers your brain’s need for neuroplasticity. A study from the University of Colorado’s Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science found that in the case of adapting to hearing loss, neuroplasticity might cause more harm than good.
When you ignore your hearing loss and do not seek proper treatment, your brain is forced to rely on neuroplasticity to constantly reassign auditory information to other areas of the senses. This can cause a huge strain on your brain, which could potentially lead to cognitive decline.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
As hearing loss is ignored and allowed to progress, parts of your brain previously reserved for higher cognitive function are forced to work to decipher auditory information. This makes it harder to comprehend language as cognitive function inevitably becomes affected. In fact, the longer you ignore your hearing loss the more your brain will begin to atrophy as centers for the brain usually reserved for higher level decision making are becoming activated to decipher sound instead.
The Sooner, the Better
Hearing aids amplify the sounds around you, allowing your brain to receive sound instead of continuing to struggle. If you suspect you have a hearing loss and have been putting it off, now is the best time to take the leap and have your hearing tested. The longer you let hearing loss progress the more the risk of developing permanent damage to your brain and your quality of life. Make an appointment for a hearing test today so you can focus on the things in your life that you love.