November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness month, designated as such in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. In that year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, there were fewer than 2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. From then to now, that number has increased to an estimated 5.7 million people.
This month is about raising awareness and educating ourselves about this prevalent disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Though there are still many unknowns when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have determined that there are certain lifestyle factors which can lower our risk of cognitive decline. These include maintaining a healthy blood pressure, refraining from smoking, and staying socially active–which goes hand in hand with treating hearing loss.
Untreated hearing loss can lead to social isolation, a known risk factor for dementia. This is why taking steps to treat hearing loss as early as possible is so vital to protecting our cognitive health. With this important month and the approaching holiday season in mind, let’s examine how treating hearing loss can improve our brain health and keep us connected with our loved ones.
How can treating hearing loss boost cognitive health?
Though the scientific community has yet to pinpoint a definitive reason as to why hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive decline, the correlation has been well documented. There are currently several theories about how exactly the loss of hearing affects long-term brain health.
The positive effects of hearing aids have also been well established. So, if you have experienced changes in your hearing and are worried about your brain health, don’t fret—treating hearing loss with the use of hearing aids is an effective way to mitigate the risks and boost cognitive function.
Here are a few theories about the hearing loss-brain health connection, and how hearing aids can help:
1) Reduced listening effort means less stress on the brain. Untreated hearing loss can make the simple act of having a conversation a mental struggle, especially in the presence of background noise. One theory suggests that this increased cognitive strain acts as a stressor to the brain, wearing down its resilience and making it more susceptible to the effects of aging. If this is true, hearing aids counteract the risk of dementia by drastically reducing listening effort and making all of those day-to-day communications much easier.
2) Clearer hearing helps the sound centers of the brain stay active. Researchers have also suggested that hearing loss causes our brain structures to change, and in a sense, atrophy. When the sound processing centers of the brain are deprived of certain sound signals, they shrink due to this lack of stimulation. If this is indeed the case, hearing aids reduce the risk of dementia by allowing a fuller spectrum of sounds to reach the brain, keeping the cells active, healthy, and functioning as they should be.
3) Hearing aids make it easier to engage socially, preventing isolation. This is one cause-and-effect relationship that has been quite well-documented: people with untreated hearing loss can find themselves living in social isolation, as they have difficulty talking and connecting with people. This lack of engagement with friends, family, and communities can result in an under-stimulation of the brain, which is a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive issues. Hearing aids, by helping people to communicate and remain connected socially, can actively prevent cognitive decline.
4) Hearing aids may improve memory. As well as helping you hear, hearing aids allow your brain to remember the sounds that you’ve lost. Language is strongly linked to cognitive health and memory; for example, multilingual people have a lower risk of cognitive decline than those who speak just one language. Wearing hearing aids allows people to continue to communicate as normally as possible, which ensures that those important neural connections are maintained. This in turn boosts memory and long-term cognitive function.
Take the first step towards better hearing with Fidelity Hearing Center
If your hearing loss has made it harder for you to connect with your loved ones, know that there are treatment options that can help significantly. Fidelity Hearing Center is here to guide you every step of the way, from your first hearing test to making sure your new hearing aids fit and function perfectly. Keep your brain happy and healthy by treating your hearing loss — schedule your hearing test today!