If You Don’t Use It You Lose It: Part I

Hearing loss as it relates to brain function and cognitive ability is far more complex than we realize.  To clarify; cognitive ability is being conscious of intellectual activity (as thinking, reasoning, remembering, imagining or learning).  The medical community has known for quite some time that sound is processed in the brain.  Hearing loss alters the auditory signal to the cognitive system.  When the auditory signal does not reach the brain the consequences can be devastating.  Hearing loss creates a domino affect that results in increased cognitive load, decline in memory, increased mental fatigue, lack of focus, poorer mental health, withdrawal from social situations and depression.

 It becomes emotionally exhausting to participate in conversations and interact socially when one is concentrating to keep up with what is being said.  Many people with hearing loss become “lazy” and don’t pay attention to others in a conversation.  Others just withdraw from social situations all together because of the effort required to hear and listen.  Most people don’t want to ask others to repeat and feel stupid when they misspeak.  The result is that they change their lifestyle to eliminate social interactions.  Your ability to process speech diminishes commensurately with the digression of hearing.

 According to The Hearing Review, September 2012 Dementia is one of the most important public health issues facing our society.  It is estimated that the prevalence of dementia will continue to double every 20 years.   One in every 30 Americans will be affected by dementia by 2050.  It is also known that as people age the speed with which they process information declines.  Memory capacity as well as focus and attention can make speech understanding a challenge. 

 Hearing aids are specifically prescribed and programmed to each patient’s needs.  Hearing well isn’t just a shot in the dark.  Proper amplification improves the auditory signal being sent to the brain and eases cognitive load. 

 Hearing aid technology has significantly improved audibility and speech intelligibility even in the noisiest situations.   While hearing with hearing instruments will never be perfect, manufacturers have created circuitry that is highly intelligent.  Hearing aids can track and monitor your environment.  They will make decisions based on where you are, what you are listening to and how much noise is present.  Some hearing aids are “trainable” meaning that you can make adjustments to the sound in a particular environment and your instruments will remember those adjustments.  Once trained, they will automatically adjust.  One of my patients told me that he loves his hearing aids.  He said, “These are great.  The volume automatically goes down when my wife starts yelling at me”.

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