News for Brain Awareness Week: Take Care of Your Hearing
Each year, during the month of March, health professionals recognize Brain Awareness Week. It began as an initiative of the Dana Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing understanding about the brain in health and disease. We thought we would acknowledge the occasion by taking a look at the relationship between brain health and healthy hearing.
It is a common misconception that hearing begins and ends with our ears, but that is not the case. Our ears gather information, in the form of soundwaves, but it is the brain that tells us what all that information means. It is the brain that actually recognizes sound.
Research has determined that the quality of our hearing can have a direct effect on brain function, over time. For instance, untreated hearing loss prevents complete information from reaching the brain, making it work harder and harder to grasp the limited sound data being received.
As the brain diverts cognitive energy from other tasks in order to help us hear, important functions such as short-term memory can be affected. Eventually, the brain can become, in a sense, overtaxed by all that effort, resulting in cognitive decline.
Another hearing-related danger posed to brain health results from the frustration many people have with their untreated hearing loss. For them it becomes easier to avoid interaction with people rather than struggle to hear them. Such deliberate withdrawal can result in social isolation that leads to depression. It can also lead to the deterioration of one’s cognitive ability, which can open the door to eventual dementia.
Those are just a few of the connections researchers have made between brain health and the sense of hearing. The key to avoiding, or at least managing those dangers is to monitor your hearing closely. For instance, social isolation doesn’t happen overnight; it tends to develop as the result of continued struggles to hear, as untreated hearing creeps further and further into one’s life.
Regular hearing tests can identify changes that indicate your brain may be in danger of receiving incomplete or bad data from your ears. Knowing that will allow a hearing health professional to offer you a plan for making sure your hearing loss doesn’t take you down a brain-unhealthy path.