Does Hearing Loss Affect Memory?

by | Aug 30, 2016

Hearing impairment can be frustrating for people with hearing loss and their loved ones. When you lose normal hearing ability--even if it’s a mild hearing loss– it’s hard to understand what someone says when they are speaking from across the room.  It is even more difficult to hear a person’s words on a phone call or in other noisy environments, such as parties or restaurants. In fact, there’s a link between hearing loss and one’s life – including social isolation due to difficulty communicating, difficulties at work because of not being able to hear conversations between coworkers, and an increased risk for accidents if you cannot rely on your ears as much anymore.

Loss of hearing ability makes everyday living more challenging for individuals with hearing loss than most people have experienced before. It impacts all aspects of the daily life of people with hearing loss from communication skills to safety precautions necessary while performing routine tasks, such as cooking dinner by yourself after and many other social situations.

Most people view ailments like hearing loss, reduction in memory function, and dementia as normal consequences of aging. However, there is a growing body of research that shows those people are wrong, showing the effects of hearing loss on human memory. There’s an association between hearing loss and reduction in memory function. While it is normal for your brain to shrink a little bit as you age, too much leads to conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. There’s a connection between hearing function, our hearing and general hearing health, and keeping a sharp brain and memory.

 5 ways hearing loss affects your memory include:

  1. Stress When you strain to hear, your brain experiences cognitive overload. That means your brain is working so hard to decipher what people are saying, and it doesn’t have the time (due to mental fatigue) to put the information in your memory bank. The more severe your hearing loss, the more resources your brain has to divert from other tasks to help you understand. This condition often causes memory issues and other health risks.
  2. Isolation – When you have to work extra hard to hear due to any form of hearing loss, you tend to start isolating yourself. You get tired of asking “What?” and decide to keep to yourself instead. When you do have to be social, your frustration with your lack of healthy hearing can make you seem irritable. Prolonged social isolation leads to depression and changes in the brain and memory loss.
  3. Too much quiet time – When you isolate yourself because you have a difficult time hearing, your brain goes from having to work hard to not working very much at all. As auditory memory areas of your brain go unused they shrink or get taken over for other duties.
  4. Depression Communication is challenging for those who have hearing loss, which can lead to stress, social isolation, and despair in some cases. Disorientation and difficulty with thinking are associated with depression-related memory issues. In addition, it causes short-term memory loss, making it harder to concentrate on everyday chores or make decisions in stressful situations.
  5. Anxiety – The capacity to hear is critical for understanding your surroundings and interacting with others. When you are unable to hear a phone, siren, alarm, an emergency request for aid, or someone approaching you, you may suffer feelings of fear and panic. Additionally, you may feel uneasy when caring for someone else, such as a tiny child or an elderly relative, or when you are alone at home.

Hearing Loss May Change the Brain

Some areas of the brain involved for auditory response appear to decrease as a result of hearing impairment. According to the findings of a study, older persons were subjected to brain scans while listening to statements of various difficulty and lengths. They also underwent tests to assess their gray matter, which includes the areas of the brain responsible for muscle control, sensory perception (such as sight and hearing), memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control, among other things.

It was discovered that when patients with hearing loss concentrated on difficult sentences, the neurons (brain cells) in their brains became less active. The gray matter in the auditory areas was likewise less dense in this group of people. These effects may build up over time or be triggered by the passage of time. Similarly, older persons with hearing loss perform worse on speech comprehension tasks than younger adults with hearing loss, according to another study.

How Does Dementia Affect Hearing?

Untreated hearing loss has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease as well as other forms of dementia, according to many researchers. In other words, persons who suffer from hearing loss are more prone than those who do not suffer from hearing loss to have cognitive issues. A great deal of study is being done in this area, and there are still many unsolved questions. 

Researchers are also working on the use of hearing aids and how it may prevent or reverse cognitive decline, and preliminary evidence has been promising, particularly when it comes to postponing the onset of dementia. Several clinical trials are now being conducted, with fantastic results.

Hearing Loss Can Mimic Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer’s

If you’re having problems understanding speech or finding it exhausting to have simple conversations, don’t automatically assume you’re suffering from dementia. Audiological problems might manifest themselves in ways that are similar to cognitive impairment, making regular hearing evaluations imperative.

However, if you have been diagnosed with hearing loss, it is crucial to understand that you are at a higher risk of acquiring dementia. Preventive measures should include as many as possible, such as adopting a healthy lifestyle, wearing hearing aids, taking medications as prescribed, and remaining as physically active and socially involved as possible.

Can Hearing Aids Help in Cognitive Decline?

Dementia, cognitive decline, social isolation, and anxiety are all possible consequences of hearing loss. However, consistent use of hearing aids, if they have been recommended for your hearing loss, can help to alleviate these issues. With the use of hearing aids, you can strengthen your auditory memory and communication competency while also restoring your communication function.

The research was undertaken by the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP) at the University of Maryland (UMD) in which they observed and recorded the responses of a group of first-time hearing aid users with mild to moderate hearing loss for six months. The memory and hearing abilities of participants were assessed by the research team using a variety of cognitive and behavioral tasks. Participants who wore hearing aids for six months demonstrated significant improvements in listening, memory, and brain speech processing, compared to those who did not. The sooner you seek treatment for your hearing loss with hearing aids, the better it will be for your brain and memory in the long term.

 Furthermore, a French study published in October 2015 found that hearing aids help protect brain health and ward off cognitive decline. Throughout the 25-year study participants with hearing aids experienced cognitive decline at the same rate as those with normal hearing. Because of this we highly recommend yearly hearing tests for anyone over the age of 50. If you can catch your hearing loss early you will keep your brain and your memory sharp. Don’t let your hearing loss affect your memory.

Common Myths About Hearing Aid

Some of the most common myths about hearing aids include:

“Wearing hearing aids means I’m old”

It is normal to be concerned that your hearing loss indicates that you are becoming older. Many persons who have hearing impairments choose to remain silent rather than participate in conversations and activities because they are concerned that their hearing impairments will make them appear helpless or less than competent. The truth is that staying connected with others might help you keep your brain younger and more engaged in your life.

“Hearing aids are difficult to use.”

There is a time of adjustment while you, as well as your central auditory system and brain, become accustomed to living with hearing aids. Most doctors and hearing clinics offer a trial period so that you can be certain that the device you’ve chosen—whether it’s a miniature behind-the-ear model or one that fits into your ear—is the best fit for you before making a purchase.

“Hearing aids cost too much.”

At the moment, just a handful of states compel health insurance to pay the cost of hearing aids for people of all ages, including children. As a result, 61 percent of consumers are responsible for paying their own bills. Hearing aids aren’t expensive, and when you consider the significant expense of hearing loss, it becomes clear that the money is well spent.

Request an Appointment With SWHC Today

If you or your loved ones are experiencing hearing loss or impairment, we can help you at South Western Hearing Centers (SWHC). We are the leading provider of hearing healthcare services in the United States. We provide a range of services, including audiology and speech-language pathology, to help people with hearing loss or impairment live better lives.

Our team of audiologists and speech-language pathologists are experts in diagnosing and treating all types of hearing disorders. We’re committed to helping people with hearing problems enjoy life more fully by providing them with the best care possible. If you want to know more about our services, please contact us today!