Preserving your hearing health has always been important. The importance of protecting your hearing has been a drum that professionals and educators constantly beat for you at a very early age. Young people have always been an at-risk population due to feelings of invincibility or not wanting to think about those kinds of things until we are older. But, now new light is being shed on the link between diminished hearing and diminished cognitive ability, underscoring the importance of taking good care of your hearing at any age.
Correlations Found In Recent Studies
Recent studies have shown a consistent correlation between individuals who have suffered hearing loss, and affected cognitive processing, particularly in the frontal lobes. This correlation was not only found in older populations, an observation that has long been established. It has also appeared consistently in studies involving younger people. While educators have always emphasized to young people the need to take their hearing health seriously, the increased use of ear pods at unsafe volume levels and other exposure to occupational noise has increased the cause for concern in recent years.
A recent study published in eNeuro showed brain activity in younger adults ages 18 to 34 with mild hearing loss that indicated impacted cognitive ability. Up until this point, studies focused on the prevalence of impaired cognition in patients with cochlear implants, or older individuals living with reduced hearing. This is one of the first studies that demonstrate similar correlations in younger patients with hearing loss. While one study is not enough, it does give precedence for numerous other studies in the future that may build on that foundation.
Overburdening The Brain
It also gives some support to the theory that dementia in older patients is a result of the brain devoting more processing power to understanding what is said, thereby fatiguing the brain. While this is not proven, it is one theory that differs from the thought that older adults with hearing loss experience dementia because of the resulting isolation that’s experienced as a result of slowly losing your hearing.
In the meantime, a new call for hearing awareness is underway, focusing on communicating the importance of protecting your ears while still in your youth, whether that be by listening to music at lower levels, paying attention to the noise levels in the room, or wearing earplugs at loud events or locations.
More Research Needed
With more research, an increased effort can be placed on exploring the link between reduced hearing and cognition, and ways to mitigate that problem could be investigated. This would allow professionals to treat individuals living with hearing loss in a way that addresses the isolation they may feel from having reduced hearing to decrease risk of dementia, and medically treat any physiological ties between hearing loss and dementia.
In the meantime, whatever age you are, use headphones at safe volume levels, monitor your environment for atmospheric noise, and use earplugs whenever necessary. If you have any questions about hearing loss and cognition, please reach out to one of our hearing professionals today.