Alzheimer's

Addressing Hearing Loss May Help Ward Off Dementia

The simple way to avoid cognitive decline.

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As we get older, it becomes increasingly important that we do our best to look after our brain health. You probably already know that eating the right diet and getting enough of certain nutrients can help avoid problems with your memory. What you may not know is that taking preventative measures can also protect you. New research suggests that when it comes to dementia, hearing loss may be something to look out for.

The Dementia Hearing Loss Connection

A team of researchers from Newcastle University in the UK have proposed a new theory about the dementia hearing loss connection. Other studies have previously shown correlations between the two, but this team of scientists were able to analyze each possible cause and propose yet another mechanism that could be responsible.

For this study, the team investigated three different mechanisms that are said to be responsible for the relationship between dementia and hearing loss. The first explanation is that there is a common cause for both hearing loss and dementia. The second is that lack of auditory input to the brain leads to brain shrinkage. The third is that cognitive impairment causes the brain to use more resources in order to compensate for hearing loss.

The new theory, however, involves the brains temporal lobe — an area typically associated with memory. The temporal lobe is responsible for long-term memory of places and events, but as the researchers suggest, it is also used for short-term storage and manipulation of auditory information.

According to their theory, abnormal activity in the temporal lobe can restrict your brains auditory pattern analysis (or your ability to recognize patterns of sounds and voices), working memory (your ability to store memories from your current environment), and object processing (your ability to identify objects). These can also be symptoms of dementia.

Of the findings, professor Tim Griffiths, co-author of the study, said, “We suggest a new theory based on how we use what is generally considered to be the memory system in the brain when we have difficulty listening in real-world environments.” His colleague Dr. Will Sedley agreed, “This memory system engaged in difficult listening is the most common site for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.” In other words, our ability to listen to our environment allows us to store and process information from them. In cases of people with dementia, that area of the brain becomes compromised, explaining a possible link between hearing and cognitive decline.

So what can you do about it? The researchers explain that while further research is needed to determine whether the new theory holds true, communicating with your doctor about your hearing (and using a hearing aid, if need be) can be a big step in avoiding neurodegenerative illnesses like dementia.

So even if you think your hearing isn’t so bad, or you’re worried or feel insecure about having to wear a hearing aid, the experts agree that monitoring your hearing can protect your brain — and your memory — in the long term. Go ahead and make that doctor’s appointment!

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