It is widely known that hearing loss affects your quality of life. We've blogged in the past about how hearing loss is connected with depression, social isolation, balance disorders, and fatigue. What isn't as well known is that untreated hearing loss affects the brain's ability to remember common everyday sounds. When the hearing nerves lose their function and no longer send sounds to the brain, the brain "forgets" the sounds and is unable to understand them over time. The longer people wait to seek treatment, the more sounds will be unrecognizable once treatment is sought.
Contrary to popular belief, we hear mostly with our brains, not our ears. There is a specific area of the brain (Wernicke's area) whose sole purpose is to decipher and make sense of the sound it receives from your ears. The brain stores sounds and noises for up to three years. On average, it takes people with hearing loss 10 years to seek treatment. Waiting this long means that even hearing aids may not be able to make the brain understand the noises it's hearing. The brain will have to learn these common everyday noises - like birds chirping and refrigerators humming - all over again. This is why we ask patients to be patient with their new hearing aids. Chances are, their brains are relearning how to hear.
Not only will your brain have to learn the sounds again, but when your hearing diminishes, your brain stops getting the stimulation it needs to process information. A lack of stimulation causes deterioration. A Johns Hopkins study showed that people with mild hearing loss were twice as likely to suffer from dementia. Those with moderate hearing loss tripled their risk, and those with severe loss were five times more likely to suffer from dementia. Not only that, but 83% of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's have untreated hearing loss.
These statistics are daunting, but the good news is that seeking treatment as early as possible can have a significant impact on your mental health. If you believe you're experiencing hearing loss or know someone who might be, please have them see an audiologist to get tested sooner rather than later. Although hearing loss is painless, it's still just as important as other health symptoms people experience and get checked out right away.