Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month: Hearing Loss & Memory

Most people don’t realize that we actually hear with our brains, not our ears. Our brains process the sounds that come from our ears and interpret them. It is called auditory processing. That is why there is a strong connection between hearing loss and memory. Studies show that people who have untreated hearing loss have a higher risk of developing a decline in memory function.

Research from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging

  • The longer hearing loss goes untreated, the more chance you have of your brain forgetting how to interpret sounds and speech.
  • Study participants who had hearing loss had higher rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • One study showed that people with hearing loss had a 24% higher chance of having Alzheimer’s.
  • Another study showed that the more profound the hearing loss was, the greater the chance of developing dementia.

The Connection between Hearing Loss and Memory

The decline in memory function as a result of long term hearing loss can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. To be clear, it isn’t the hearing loss that causes a decline in memory function, but untreated hearing loss that has a negative effect on the brain. The exact connection or causality is unknown. At this time, research is ongoing and scientists are trying to uncover many unknown mysteries of the brain. There are several different theories that researchers have as to why untreated hearing loss effects memory:

  • Social Isolation – We already know that hearing loss can cause social isolation and even depression because of how it can interfere with communications. However, scientists believe that one option for cognitive decline has to do with how social isolation effects brain functions.
  • Cognitive Load – This refers to how the brain’s capacity becomes overloaded when it has to work harder to process auditory sounds, it leaves less capacity for other functions, like memory.
  • Change in the Brain Functions – There is a possibility that the taxing of the brain trying to decode sounds the ear cannot hear might cause the brain structure to change and therefore functions change as well.
  • Possible Unknown Cause – The human brain is such a mystery, more research is needed to establish the exact connection between untreated hearing loss and memory decline.

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