Pro Hearing Sponsored Content: Ask the Experts – The Ear-Brain Connection

Hearing

PRO HEARING SPONSORED CONTENT – Did you know that hearing is one of the most complex systems of the human body?

The ear, believe it or not, is not the central part of the body where hearing occurs; it is, in fact, the brain. Essentially, the ear is the body’s microphone that picks up sound and the brain processes and interprets that sound. The “ear-brain connection” has become the main focus of audiologic research over the last decade. Groundbreaking studies have offered proof that demonstrates a major correlation between hearing loss and a decline within the brain’s physical, mental, and cognitive constructs.

There is long-standing evidence that shows untreated hearing loss can cause physical alterations to the brain. For instance, hearing loss is linked with a decrease in brain volume, as well as significant shrinkage in areas of the brain critical for language processing. Additionally, substantial decreases in gray matter (the cells that help the brain process information) have been observed in patients with high frequency hearing loss. These physical changes have lead scientists, doctors, and researchers to investigate how these physical changes impact other brain processes.

One such process is cognition. Johns Hopkins University was the first to publish research on this topic, and the results were astounding! They discovered that hearing loss increased the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s by five-fold. Degradation begins to take place when the ear can no longer distinguish sound at normal thresholds (or at all) and the brain stops processing these sounds. Put simply, if the ear cannot hear it, the brain cannot process it. This results in atrophy of the auditory nerves and speech processing pathways inside the brain. At this point, the brain must overcompensate to the detriment of other brain functions, namely cognition.

Hearing loss also affects mental heath. We know that hearing is highly emotional. Songs move people to tears, the sound of laughter brings people joy and conversations give people a sense of connection and understanding. It is no wonder then, that long-standing evidence shows a direct link between hearing loss and depression and isolation. Some studies have reported instances of depression and isolation in more than 80% of people with hearing loss. While mental health is a major health concern that gets far less attention than it should, thankfully, it has been recognized in the audiology community and is considered a priority when educating patients on hearing loss and hearing technology.

Simply put, the affects of hearing loss extend well beyond the ear. The ear-brain connection shines a bright light on the importance of approaching hearing health with a wider lens. By taking a comprehensive approach to hearing care, future physical, cognitive, and mental affects can be addressed and mitigated. At Pro Hearing, our goal is to lead people toward better health through better hearing! If you of a loved one is experiencing hearing loss or want to learn more about the ear-brain connection, we would be happy to see you and answer any questions you have. Call us today!

Dr. Pam Matthews, Audiologist
Pro Hearing, LLC
9409 N May Avenue and 10404 S Pennsylvania Ave
Oklahoma City, OK

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