Age has a way of slowing down all the basic processes of our body, including our cognitive skills. Over time, we face health problems such as dementia as well as Alzheimer’s disease, which can take away our sense of independence and even rob us of our precious memories. What is often ignored is the fact that hearing actually plays a huge role in maintaining our cognitive health.
Hearing is a sense we often take for granted, until it is gone. Being able to hear properly helps us function efficiently in our world and maintains our cognitive abilities. Hearing loss places additional strain on the brain to try and make sense of intermittent sound signals, which can lead to mental fatigue and over time, dementia. People who do not seek treatment for their hearing loss actually have a 1.3 times increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s compared to someone with regular hearing.
When we think of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the first disease that comes to mind. Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease that slowly begins to deteriorate your cognitive functions to the point where you can no longer remember even simple tasks such as walking and talking. It can result in major loss of memory, confusion, and speech difficulties.
People with dementia often face mood swings, are prone to social withdrawal and isolation, and depression. While the cognitive skills begin to deteriorate increasingly, even simple decisions may grow to become a challenge. Slowly, people with dementia begin to grow dependant on others for their daily survival since they are no longer able to perform mundane tasks such as dressing themselves, remembering where they put things, or doing household chores.
Imagine waking up, and forgetting what you have to do next. You walk out of the door, and then realize that you have no clothes on, but you can no longer remember where your closet is. Imagine going to the bathroom and forgetting what you were going to do there. You feel hungry but cannot remember where the kitchen is. Once you finally find the kitchen, you have no idea where the food is kept. Even when you eventually find the food, you have forgotten how to make your breakfast. If reading this made you feel frustrated, imagine how frustrating it would be to actually be this person, who has Alzheimer’s. This is what dementia can do to a person.
Auditory health plays a major role in our cognitive health. As the delicate hair follicles within the inner ear deteriorate, the sound signals can no longer be picked up and sent to the brain. Over time, these damaged cells grow in size and intensity, and we experience hearing loss.
Due to the lack of sound signals being transmitted to the brain, the brain is left with limited information about its surrounding environment. This can lead to gaps and errors in judgment. Over time, this can lead to exhaustion and deterioration of cognitive abilities as the brain is no longer able to keep up with the increasing lack of auditory information. Worse still, the brain grows used to NOT having much auditory information, which is known as neuroplasticity. The brain begins to reassign the dormant auditory cells to other tasks, which can deteriorate our language skills, communicative and working memory skills that are related with our hearing. This can lead to cognitive decline which may eventually result in dementia.
A simple way to avert a lot of the distressing information mentioned above is to take good care of your hearing. Your hearing helps keep your brain active and healthy. Hearing loss is an irreversible condition, so taking steps to safe guard your ears is crucial in preventing hearing loss due to noise. Always wear hearing protection before exposing yourself to loud noises, and get your hearing examined by an audiologist on a yearly basis after the age of 50. If by chance you do end up having hearing loss, make sure you treat it in a timely manner by getting hearing aids to help prevent the dangers of developing dementia due to untreated hearing loss.
Dr. Hubik received her bachelor of science degree in communication disorders as well as her doctorate of audiology from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC). In her youth, Dr. Hubik became interested in helping people with hearing loss to communicate more effectively and therefore pursued a degree in this field. Born and raised in this area, Dr. Hubik grew up in Anton, Texas and appreciates working with the people of West Texas. Dr. Hubik opened Cornerstone Audiology in March of 2007. She and her team are proud to serve the hearing needs of this community.