All of us would like to be healthy. We may not always like exercising and eating veggies, but it’s something that we know is good for us. Maybe we’re hoping for a long healthy life to see our family expand, maybe we dream of traveling, or maybe we just want to enjoy the domestic pleasures of life for as long as we possibly can. However, an often overlooked condition may be causing more harm than one might expect when left untreated: hearing loss.
It’s colloquially said that, on average, it takes someone seven years after they’ve started noticing their hearing loss before they seek help for it. In those seven years, they may stop enjoying group conversation, restaurants, music, TV, and movies. Their quality of life decreases since they are unable to partake in things that once brought them joy.
Additionally, hearing loss leads the brain to suffer from auditory deprivation. Auditory deprivation happens when the organ of hearing, the cochlea, fails to successfully communicate sounds to the brain at what people with normal hearing consider a comfortable volume. After some time, the hearing impaired’s understanding of words begins to decrease, even with heightened volume. Since understanding words is a function of the brain and not of the ear, nothing can be done to restore one’s lost word understanding. Imagine only being able to understand half of the words someone says to you, no matter how loud they speak!
Hearing loss has also been linked to an increased risk for dementia. One of the current hypotheses as to why concerns this aforementioned phenomenon of auditory deprivation. It’s posited that since the brain requires complex stimulation to remain healthy and active, the lack of auditory stimulation may heighten the risk for the brain to develop dementia due to a depleted auditory environment. Other studies suggest that the self-inflicted social isolation that often comes with a progressing hearing loss may heighten risks of dementia since it leads to a gradually dwindling amount of social stimulation.
Overall, a person with untreated hearing loss has a higher likelihood of developing dementia, despite the exact link between the two conditions still being unknown.
The keyword here is untreated, as it seems that auditory deprivation can be prevented, or at least greatly reduced, by early detection and amplification. It therefore becomes paramount to get a hearing test as soon as a potential hearing loss is noticed – not seven years later.
When we aim to take care of our health, we must remember to focus on more than just exercise and healthy eating. While they are important, we must take care of our mental health as well as our physical health – and that begins with the brain. Hearing just so happens to be an area of our lives where both aspects meet and intersect. So, let’s make a commitment to ourselves to bring hearing healthcare into our lives, and set ourselves up for success in healthy living.
Source: Timothy D. Griffiths, Meher Lad, Sukhbinder Kumar, Emma Holmes, Bob McMurray, Eleanor A. Maguire, Alexander J. Billig, William Sedley, How Can Hearing Loss Cause Dementia?, Neuron, Volume 108, Issue 3, 2020, Pages 401-412, ISSN 0896-6273.