Untreated Hearing Loss
The Relationship Between Hearing Loss & Dementia
There are many consequences of untreated hearing loss. When hearing loss is left untreated, it can have a major impact on the brain, lead to social disengagement, and also cause some extremely serious health issues. There are many studies that suggest a strong link between hearing loss and dementia. This makes it more important to be treated if you feel as if you're suffering from hearing loss. Your hearing health affects your entire well-being, and it is far too important to leave untreated.
Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss
Through a study at The University of Colorado's Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science, the central question being asked was "how does the brain adapt to hearing loss, and how does hearing loss affect areas of the brain?" Researchers determined that hearing loss impairs the quality of the signals perceived by the brain for processing. So, when an individual suffers from hearing loss, parts of the brain dedicated to other senses (such as vision and touch) take over the part of the brain that typically processes hearing. Known as cross-modal cortical reorganization, this rewiring process can lead to cognitive decline because it increases the brain’s cognitive load. The reorganization of these processes negatively impacts a person’s ability to understand speech and weakens the brain. Areas of the brain devoted to higher-level thinking then step in, attempting to correct the deficiency. Preoccupied with assisting the brain with its hearing function, they abandon their typical responsibilities, which can cause serious cognitive issues.
- Hearing loss changes the structure of the brain - over time people with hearing loss experienced accelerated rates of brain atrophy. Much like a muscle will shrink if it's not used, the region of the brain responsible for sound and speech processing will gradually decline if hearing loss is not addressed.
- Hearing loss causes changes in behavior and can lead to social disengagement.
Hearing Loss Can Lead To Health Issues
Because hearing loss is associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline, it should come as no surprise that research has revealed that those experiencing problems with hearing are more likely to develop dementia. In addition to the link between hearing loss and dementia, other studies have found that adults with untreated hearing loss and their significant others experienced significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other psychosocial disorders. Someone with hearing loss who doesn't look for medical care can develop some of these health issues as well:
- Balance issues
Other consequences of untreated hearing loss include strained relationships and performance issues at ones job, which can lower a person’s earning potential and career prospects. This can lead to other issues in life.
The Correlation Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
According to one source, midlife hearing loss is the single greatest risk factor for dementia. At this point, researchers aren't sure how to explain exactly why people who suffer from hearing loss are so susceptible to cognitive decline, but they have a few theories. First, as we mentioned above, hearing loss often leads to social isolation, which is another risk factor for dementia. When people avoid interactions and stimulating environments with others due to hearing loss issues, dementia may result. Additionally, when a person suffers from hearing loss, their brain must work harder to decode sounds, so they may have a difficult time remembering what they heard. Hearing loss can also produce long-term changes within the brain.
Other Issues Connected To Hearing Loss
Hearing Loss and Cerebrovascular & Cardiovascular Disorders
Heart disease is the most common medical condition in the US, and it is linked to hearing loss. The circulatory system plays a crucial role in the auditory system and nervous system, both of which enable us to hear. High blood pressure and limited blood flow have adverse effects on hearing. Some cases of hearing loss have been linked to people with cerebrovascular and/or cardiovascular disorders, as well as smokers. Often times, hearing loss may indicate medical issues related to the cerebrovascular and cardiovascular systems. For example, diabetes has been linked with hearing loss, as diabetes causes elevated blood glucose levels that lead to stroke, heart attack, or hypertension.
Hearing Loss and Cancer Treatments
Cancer treatments have been linked to hearing loss, due to certain classes of ototoxic (“poisoning of the ear”) drugs used in chemotherapy. For example, Cisplatin, a common anticancer drug, has 69% ototoxicity at a dose less than 200 milligrams. These drugs damage your inner ear hair cells, which do not regenerate, leading to permanent sensorineural hearing loss. If you notice changes in your hearing during cancer treatment, notify your physician. There are other classes of drugs that are poisonous to your ears, such as antibiotics and diuretics.
Hearing Loss and Depression
Hearing loss has been linked with depression, due to the factor of social isolation that affects people who do not seek treatment. Because hearing loss interferes with speech recognition and ability to discern sounds against background noise in loud environments, people who experience hearing loss are more likely to avoid social situations and continue engaging as they once did before changes in their hearing. This isolation and inactivity takes a toll on people who once led active lives, engaging with their friends, family, and community. People with untreated hearing loss may also experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. Treating hearing loss early on ensures that neural pathways for speech recognition do not deteriorate, while keeping people connected with their loved ones.
To get treated for your hearing loss, please call Rocky Mountain Audiology at one of our two convenient Colorado locations: Edwards, Colorado at (970) 926-6660 or our Glenwood Springs location at (970) 945-7575. You may also Schedule an Appointment to meet with one of our hearing loss specialists.