Intrigued by all the brain-training products out there to keep your mind sharp and spirits young? You may want to consider something else: A hearing test.
That’s right. Mounting evidence links untreated hearing loss to impaired memory and diminished cognitive function. What that means is, if you keep brushing off that suspected hearing loss of yours, your cognition may pay.
Researchers have found that when people with unaddressed hearing loss strain to hear, they tend to do more poorly on memory tests. They may figure out what is being said, but because so much effort goes into just hearing it, their ability to remember what they heard often suffers.
Experts believe this has to do with what they call “cognitive load.” That is, in order to compensate for the hearing loss and make out the words, people with untreated hearing loss may draw on cognitive resources they’d normally use to remember what they’ve heard. Experts say that untreated hearing loss may even interfere with the person’s ability to accurately process and make sense of what was said or heard.
In fact, research shows that people with poorer hearing have less gray matter in the auditory cortex, a region of the brain needed to support speech comprehension.
Other research shows a link between hearing loss and dementia. One Johns Hopkins study found that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. Another found that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults. And a third revealed a link between hearing loss and accelerated brain tissue loss.
Some experts believe that interventions, like professionally fitted hearing aids, could potentially help.
The bottom line is we actually “hear” with our brain, not with our ears.