The calm before the storm: Exploring the link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline

O captain! My captain! Rise up and hear the bells

Think of life as a row boat with our senses as the oarsmen moving our experiences forward. Between patients and health practitioners, it is our duty to fulfill the role of the coxswain by monitoring the team’s functioning and steering the journey in the right direction.

Exploring the link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline

Part of this role means addressing when the team isn’t firing on all cylinders, checking the nature of the misstep and aiding the malfunctioning oarsman back to proper production. This means that when hearing loss occurs, it’s imperative to acknowledge the ailment immediately to prevent overloading the other cognitive functions and maintain our mental well-being.

No organ is an island: The connection between hearing and cognitive function

Our sense of hearing is not isolated but intricately connected to various cognitive processes. When sound enters our ears, it is processed in the auditory cortex – the part of the brain that’s responsible for hearing.

However, hearing is not limited to this isolated region. It interacts with other cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. When hearing loss occurs and goes untreated, it can disrupt or bear unnecessary weight on these cognitive processes.

A match made in unwellness: Untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline

Understanding what’s at stake is the top priority, so we’ve compiled a list of how untreated hearing loss links to cognitive decline so you can ensure your patient’s life isn’t just ‘but a dream.’

Sailors take warning: increased risk of dementia

If the patient row, row, rows their boat too far with untreated hearing loss, they may find themselves up a creek without a paddle. Research indicates that individuals with untreated hearing loss may be at a higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One study published by hearing experts at Johns Hopkins found that hearing loss was associated with a 30-40% increased risk of cognitive decline.

First mate to no mate: social isolation

Remember those lovely two-ish years spent chomping at the bit for the simple privilege of mingling with some loved ones? Untreated hearing loss often leads to social isolation and withdrawal from social activities, denying the brain the stimulation necessary for proper functioning. Isolation can further hold humans back by contributing to depression and reduced cognitive activity, ultimately leading to its decline.

Encourage your patient network to keep that pandemic energy and channel it into making hearing assessments a regular occurrence to maintain their connection with the outside world.

Man overboard: Overloading the cognitive load

Like that partner in the group project, untreated hearing loss affects more than just your auditory cortex. Struggling to hear and understand conversations requires increased cognitive effort. This cognitive load can divert resources away from other tasks on the brain’s to-do list, such as memory and problem-solving, leading to cognitive decline over time.

Shiver me brain atrophy

A hearing health paradox: So many struggle with the fear of missing out, yet so few pursue regular hearing check-ups. Making the concerns of the masses come true, some research suggests that untreated hearing loss may lead to accelerated brain atrophy, particularly in areas associated with sound processing and cognitive function.

It’s use it or lose it, even in adulthood, and when hearing loss mutes the auditory cues the brain once registered, the road to cognitive loss is a long but promising one.

Ensure a quiet float never meets a waterfall

In short, our ears are like the trusty guardians of our cognitive kingdom. Hearing instrument practitioners serve as the commanding officer in the tower, tilting the strings for the patient’s overall life experience. When patients are attentive to their hearing, we can help ensure their mental faculties stay sharp and tuned in (pun fully intended).

From encouraging regular hearing check-ups to promoting fast action in the face of hearing loss, there are plenty of ways to keep your patient’s cognitive ship sailing smoothly.

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