Haims: Hearing can impact your brian’s cognitave functions (column) | VailDaily.com

Haims: Hearing can impact your brian’s cognitave functions (column)

Judson Haims

When it comes to keeping the body in shape, the colloquial phrase, "use it or loss it" may often be heard. But does this concept apply to the brain as well? Emphatically, yes.

In effort to provide a higher level of care to our clients, I tend to read a considerable amount about some of the ailments that affect their lives. Recently, I started paying closer attention to the subject matter of age-related memory loss and how hearing aids can play a part in mitigating cognitive loss.

In an article I previously wrote about hearing loss and hearing aids, I shared a personal story of how my family and I had been affected by the loss of hearing endured by my father. Since, there has been a tremendous amount of research conducted in addition to leaps in technological advancements. I hope that anyone who is directly and/or indirectly affected by hearing loss will read further and seek out further research and education.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders conducts and supports research in the prevention of hearing loss. While they state that, "Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing," they do provide quite a bit of compelling research supporting the premise that the association between hearing loss and cognitive performance can be mitigated with the use of hearing aids.

“Recently, I started paying closer attention to the subject matter of age-related memory loss and how hearing aids can play a part in mitigating cognitive loss.”

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Go online to http://www.nidcd.nih.gov to learn about hearing loss and resources available to help.

Drs. Jonathan Peelle, Ph.D., and Art Wingfield, of Brandeis University, have published vast amounts of research detailing the association between one's ability to hear and areas of gray matter within the brain. Their research proposes that people with hearing loss expend greater effort to understand speech signals, thus contributing to making other aspects of comprehension more difficult.

The professors provide addition information on this subject in the article, "How Does Hearing Loss Affect the Brain." This article explains how the professors conducted MRI studies which suggests that, "listeners' hearing ability does not only impact their sensory processing of auditory information, but also impacts higher-level linguistic processes."

Therefore, it implies that decreased hearing ability has cascading consequences for the neural processes supporting both perception and cognition.

The brain is a miraculous organ and while it can be trained to improve cognitive functions and complex tasks, it does have limitations. Hearing aids help the brain by reducing the effort and cognitive resources it takes to understand speech. It is believed that as the brain loses the ability to be stimulated by auditory sounds, neurons in the brain die and thus promote cognitive decline.

As referenced in the article, "How Does Hearing Loss Affect the Brain," people who have been diagnosed with hearing loss and choose to not wear their hearing aids, via the Mini Mental State Examination, have shown to have greater mental decline than those who choose to wear hearing aids.

Although the direct relationship may be casual and cannot determine causation, contributing factors of depression and social isolation that result from hearing loss have proven to exacerbate cognitive decline.

Brain health also plays an important role in cognitive abilities. When it comes to your brain, if you don't use it, then you will lose it.

• Keep learning: Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.

• Use all your senses: The more senses you use in learning something, (sight, smell, touch) the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory.

• Embrace simple helping tools: Take advantage of calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders and address books to keep routine information accessible.

Don't underestimate the importance of using a hearing aid. While it may be nice to occasionally not hear those who nag you, you may be causing greater harm to yourself and your overall health.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.