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Posted on Wednesday, June 06, 2012

How Hearing and Your Brain Work Together

Man with map. Hearing aids increase concentration.

People with untreated hearing loss experience a separation from the outside world that slowly increases stress, depression, and can have a profound impact on the way an individual interacts with the world. It is no surprise then that people fitted with hearing aids report an increased sense of happiness and improved relationships, but some might find it surprising that people also report an increased ability to concentrate. It turns out hearing and the brain work together in many subtle and profound ways.

"The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex [than blindness]…it means the loss of the most vital stimulus--the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man." Helen Keller

In a study sponsored by Phonak and initiated by Hear-the-World 4,300 people were surveyed globally about the affects hearing has on a person's quality of life. The abilities to concentrate and relax were surveyed under health and wellbeing. It would seem counterintuitive that hearing better would aid concentration or relaxation. After all, don't people usually seek out silence in order to concentrate or feel at ease? Although, this might be true of someone with normal hearing, this expectation doesn't take into account the overwhelming stress and taxation on the mind hearing loss produces or the physical benefits to the brain that stimulation from hearing provides.

“Even subtle changes in hearing appear to have an impact on the brain.” Dr. Jonathan Peelle

Sensory input from your ears, helps to keep your brain younger and functioning better. A study conducted by Dr. Jonathan Peelle and funded by the National Institute on Hearing, showed that hearing loss and the resulting lack of stimulation tended to cause reduction in gray matter. This startling report indicates preserving hearing may be as important as correcting hearing loss in keeping the brain healthy.

Results of the Hearing is Living study seem to support previous studies showing the connection between hearing loss and brain functions. Of the 4,300 people surveyed about their hearing aids, it was shown:
• Hearing aid owners can concentrate better
• Hearing aid users are less likely to lose the thread when telling a story
• Respondents with hearing aids are better at relaxation.
• 59% of Hearing aid users state that they are good at relaxing, while for non-users the figure is only 49% (moderate to severe hearing loss.)

A third study conducted by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging suggests hearing loss affects brain function by denying auditory stimulation. This study, as reported in an online article at Johns Hopkins, examined untreated hearing loss and dementia and found that people with, “…mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had twofold, threefold, and fivefold, respectively, the risk of developing dementia over time. The more hearing loss they had, the higher their likelihood of developing the memory-robbing disease.”

Apparently, being denied stimulation from sound causes parts of the brain to atrophy, but untreated hearing loss also exhausts people physically which impacts the ability to stay focused. An individual with untreated hearing loss must work to hear and employ tiresome concentration tactics that actually wear down an attention span. As Hear-the-World reported, "Often patients who can no longer compensate their hearing loss adequately complain of diverse physical and mental problems as an expression of the situation of permanent stress."

“Speech is heard more clearly, and one no longer needs to concentrate so hard all the time. Hearing aid users can thus relax better, experience less stress, and regain their quality of life.” Dr. Richter consultant in the Klinikum am Europakanal in Erlangen (Germany), Hearing is Living

Considering the benefits hearing aids provide to users, it is no surprise that globally more than eighty percent report their hearing aids were worth the purchase. Quality of life depends on relationships, stress levels, and ability to concentrate on tasks. That's why it is so important for people with untreated hearing loss--mild, moderate, or severe, to get the help they need. If you have untreated hearing loss, don't wait another day. If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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