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Even Minor Hearing Loss Can Increase Risk of Dementia

by April Maguire

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!

Scientists have known for sometime now that hearing ability and cognitive function are linked. While the exact mechanisms remain something of a mystery, studies have shown that once the hearing centers in the brain stop functioning optimally, it can have a negative impact on other parts of the brain. So far, most research has been done on older adults, chronicling the mental effects of hearing loss once people reach an advanced age. However, new data suggests that cognitive impairment could begin earlier than previous thought and, most alarmingly, could be triggered by even mild hearing loss.

Your Brain Working Overtime

Most hearing loss is due to the deterioration or damage of small, hair-like cells in the inner ear. These cells take in auditory information, which is then converted to electrical impulses that are interpreted by the brain. According to researchers at Ohio State University, a reduction in auditory stimuli actually changes how the brain processes sound information. In short, the less information the brain gets, the more it has to work to understand it.

Typically, young people only use the left hemisphere of their brain to interpret auditory stimuli. As we age, and we begin taking in less sound information, the right half of the brain begins to kick in and provide backup, a transition which usually occurs around age 50. Shockingly, however, scientists have discovered that this transition is starting to occur earlier in life, and with the right hemisphere assisting on sound decoding, it takes resources away from other processes, such as memory and focus. Ultimately, the end result is that these overtaxed brains are more likely to develop dementia later in life.

How You Can Preserve Your Hearing and Your Brain

Fortunately, there are many steps that you can take to preserve your hearing and keep your brain functioning optimally. For starters, pay attention to the sound levels around you, as exposure to excessive noise is one of the most common ways people lose their hearing. If you work in a noisy environment, such as construction or manufacturing, or you engage in loud activities, such as going to concerts or dirt biking, then you should wear earplugs to limit your sound exposure.

Perhaps most importantly, it's a good idea to keep track of your electronic usage. Smartphones, tablets and other personal listening devices can emit sounds loud enough to damage your hearing, so try to limit your usage to around an hour a day and keep the volume at around 50%. Similarly, don't turn the volume up too loudly on the television or on the car radio. Also, you should wear protective gear when playing sports or engaging in extreme activities, as physical damage to your ears can cause even more serious problems than excessive noise.

According to the most recent numbers, up to 60% of hearing loss is entirely preventable. So think about your hearing, engage in safe practices, and you should be able to preserve both your hearing and your brain.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!

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