Memory loss and hearing loss, long assumed to be just more consequences of aging, now may be linked, according to recent research. Studies have shown that among those over 60, hearing loss accounted for over one-third of the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. The two also have many symptoms in common, such as:
- Increased distrust of others’ motives
- Problems talking and understand others
- Inappropriate responses to social cues
- Feelings of isolation
- Lower scores on tests of mental function
- Defensiveness or negativity
The link between hearing loss and memory loss may be hidden in our brains. When we hear, sound travels into the ear and stimulates small hair cells. These cells then trigger electrical impulses to travel along nerves to the brain stem and then to the temporal lobe- just above the hear. All in all, the temporal cortex, occipital cortex, posterior parietal cortex, and brain stem all have a hand in our ability to hear a sound and perceive its location.
Hearing loss can also have a negative impact on the brain’s activity. Age or exposure to loud voices can make small hair cells disappear, which then makes it harder to capture sound. If you hear less sound, your nerves become less active and in turn, your brain becomes less active as well. An inactive brain can lead to nerve cell death, tissue loss throughout the brain, and decreased functioning.
If you or one of your loved ones are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed above, ask your doctor about getting tested for hearing loss. Several encouraging studies have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s improved their ability to understand and communicate after being fitted with hearing aids.