Your brain is like a muscle that needs regular training to stay in shape. Its overall ability to function is affected if your auditory cortex doesn’t function properly, which is why hearing loss can increase your risk for dementia.
How Hearing Loss Affects Your Brain
The hair cells in your inner ear send signals to your brain so you can process and comprehend sounds. Damage to the hair cells inhibits them from sending signals to your brain and maintaining neural connections.
If you have hearing loss, the lack of stimuli causes your brain to work overtime to understand sounds. It will compensate for that lack of function by pulling energy from other areas of your brain, which increases your cognitive load. That effort takes away from your brain’s ability to focus on other cognitively demanding tasks.
Hearing loss affects your brain’s physical structure as well. Brain imaging studies have shown that people with hearing loss have less gray matter in their auditory cortex. That means there are fewer neural tissues, fibers and connections in the sound-processing center of the brain.
The stimulating nature of conversations promotes brain health. However, you may feel less inclined to socialize if you have hearing loss. That can increase your tendency to withdraw from social settings and lead to isolation, a known risk factor for dementia.
Protect Your Hearing
You can take steps to get your hearing loss under control and slow the onset of dementia.
- Visit an audiologist. They will provide tests and hearing aids that help mitigate the side effects of hearing loss.
- Socialize. Engaging with others lowers your risk for dementia and will keep your mind active.
- Maintain an exercise schedule. The increase in blood flow caused by cardiovascular exercise is extremely beneficial to your hearing and brain health. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.
- Eat well. Foods like fish, bananas, sweet potatoes and broccoli support healthy hearing, which, in turn, boosts your overall brain function. Blueberries and avocadoes contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids that are also good for your brain.