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Can Untreated Hearing Loss Lead To Cognitive Disorders?

Last updated on Apr 11, 2018

Many people, when confronted with the fact that they may be suffering from hearing loss, tend to brush it aside. They think to themselves “It’s not too bad yet, I can live with it” or “I’ll just get a hearing aid for the weaker ear.”

Even being recommended a hearing aid often leads to resistance. For whatever reason, people tend to push away the idea of getting help for their hearing loss. If you are one of these individuals who has been putting off seeking treatments, or know someone who is, it’s time to seek aid.

Cognitive Disorders

Recent estimates suggest that only twenty percent of the 36 million people who suffer from hearing loss seek treatment. According to ASHA.org, on average people will wait ten years or more before getting a hearing aid.

While during this time they may have felt they were coping with the problem and that it wasn’t causing any harm, recent studies would suggest otherwise. Not only does hearing loss contribute to emotional, physical, social, and psychological problems, but these studies have shown a connection between hearing loss and reduced cognitive function.

Individuals who suffer from hearing loss are more susceptible to cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to the National Institute on Aging. At John Hopkins, a recent study examined individuals with different levels of hearing loss and found a link between hearing loss and dementia.

After 20 years, almost 10 percent of participants were identified as having dementia. The study showed that overall, for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of dementia went up 20 percent.

Participants with mild loss were three times as likely to develop dementia, while those classified with severe loss were five times as likely. This cognitive disorder is suggested as being caused by auditory deprivation.

Auditory Deprivation

When the hearing nerve is under-stimulated, auditory deprivation occurs. This can stem from untreated hearing loss over a period of time. When you get auditory deprivation, this can lead to a weakening of the entire auditory system.

Adults tend to experience hearing loss gradually, and as such auditory deprivation can often go on for a long period of time. When your brain goes without getting adequate sound, it causes atrophy in the areas responsible for speech and sound.

The ears act as a gateway for sound to get to our brain. If a sound doesn’t get to the ear, it doesn’t get to the brain. Sound means nothing to us until it is processed by our brains. Prolonged absence of sound can lead to the brain having trouble understanding sounds. It’s like a muscle in that if you don’t use it enough, it becomes weaker over time.

One of the most common causes of auditory deprivation is failure to treat hearing loss with a hearing aid. You can also suffer from the atrophy mentioned above if you only take care of one ear and not the other. When one ear does all of the work, the other one becomes unused and eventually weaker. Even if the other ear is later supported by a hearing aid, it can be difficult to help because of the existing auditory deprivation damage.

Prevention

How much auditory deprivation is experienced depends on the individual. Each person has a different circumstance when it comes to the amount of hearing loss and how long the auditory system has gone under-stimulated. The main thing to remember about preventing auditory deprivation is to keep your auditory system stimulated!

If you suspect you have hearing loss, schedule a hearing test to see if hearing aids are right for you. Studies have shown that identifying and treating hearing loss sooner, rather than later, results in greater success.

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