Ear

Check Your Ears

By
Jed Grisel, MD
on
August 26, 2022

Looking to boost your brain health? Start by checking your ears

“Successful aging” is the buzzword of the day. We’re all (thankfully) living longer, healthier lives. Successful aging implies that we not only live longer, but that our longevity is paired with joy, happiness, and a high quality of life. What’s the point of living a long life if that life is filled with isolation and misery? According to health experts, improved brain health is one of the key pillars of successful aging. 

What is dementia? 

Dementia is actually not one single disease. Dementias are a group of brain disorders (think Alzheimer’s) that are associated with memory loss, personality changes and/or impaired reasoning. Lancet Public Health (2022) estimates that 57 million people worldwide had dementia in 2019, and that number will soar to 153 million cases by 2050. Advanced stages of dementia are particularly devastating because the victim is deprived of independent living, wreaking havoc in the lives of patients and their caregivers. Eighty-five percent of the cost of dementia care is born by caregivers and loved ones. 

How does dementia develop? 

The onset of dementia can take years or decades to develop. Early on, the patient will exhibit measurable decreases in mental ability without any impact on activities of daily living. We call this early phase Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Since there are no effective treatments for late-stage dementia, scientists currently believe that the key to battling dementia is to extend this MCI phase as long as possible - thus delaying the devastating effects of late-stage disease. (About 13 percent of MCI cases convert to full dementia every year) 

How can you boost your brain health? 

There is some good news. A recent study found that 4 out of 10 cases of dementia are linked to behaviors that are within our power to control (see sidebar). By actively reducing or eliminating these risk factors, we are well on our way to improved brain health and successful aging. Interestingly, the risk factor topping the list was … hearing loss. 

Hearing loss and brain health 

Decades of research clearly link improved hearing to better brain health. The brain, much like a muscle, retains strong neural pathways when properly stimulated through healthy hearing. People who can hear tend to socialize more, which improves mood. Finally, treating hearing loss unloads the brain from the heavy burden of listening to a bad sound signal. This frees up precious resources in the brain to perform other important mental tasks. 

Hearing aids and brain health

The impact of hearing aids on brain health is a hot area of research, and there is still a lot to learn. However, many studies have shown that hearing loss patients who do not use hearing aids have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and dementia. In fact, one study (Sharma, 2020) found amazingly that the area of the brain that processes sound is “reassigned” to other functions (such as vision) in patients with untreated hearing loss, and this process is associated with poor mental ability. Treating hearing loss with premium hearing aids showed promising results to reverse this brain reassignment and improve cognitive ability. 

Conclusion

We are all on a journey to improved health and wellness. As part of this journey, your trusted audiologist can play a vital role in keeping your brain healthy and sharp. Schedule a hearing check today … your brain will thank you.