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Can Untreated Hearing Loss Affect Your Brain?

By Melissa Sammy
Hearing loss can have surprising neurocognitive consequences. Learn more about some of the effects of untreated hearing loss on the brain.

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can arise from a number of factorsfrom natural aging and disease to certain medications and loud work environments. Unfortunately, hearing loss often goes untreated, especially among older adults, and can have serious health consequences.

Cognitive Effects of Hearing Loss

The cognitive effects of hearing loss have been under scientific investigation for decades. Many studies have established a connection between age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline. Cognitive decline is when a person experiences problems with memory or confusion, and it can progress into dementia. 

The links between hearing loss, mental well-being, and brain health is another element to consider. Loss of hearing can lead to social isolation and a withdrawal from conversations—which may be a contributing factor for dementia, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

In fact, a 2011 study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine that followed over 600 adults for nearly 12 years found that mild hearing loss doubled the risk of dementia. The underlying factor behind this association, however, is unclear.

“It is believed that hearing loss may cause dementia in three ways. First, patients who have hearing loss must utilize more brain resources to compensate for their lowered ability to hear,” Rhee Rosenman-Nesson, AuD, CCC-A, a New Jersey-based audiologist and founder of Hearing Doctors of New Jersey, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

“Next, the lack of sound input to the brain can result in the cells being under-stimulated and the brain shrinking. Finally, experts believe that, for some patients, hearing loss may not directly cause dementia; rather, their hearing loss and dementia may be caused by the same underlying issue,” Rosenman-Nesson says.

According to Rosenman-Nesson, the temporal lobe is the area of the brain that processes both auditory information and short-term memory storage. It’s also the first region of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. So, hearing problems can potentially lead to degeneration in this area.

What Happens If Your Hearing Loss Goes Untreated?

Untreated hearing loss can lead to:

  • Anxiety due to missing key points of communication
  • Mental and muscular fatigue resulting from working double-time to follow conversations
  • Tinnitus, also known as a ringing in the ears

“If you are struggling to hear clearly and always saying ‘what?’ it is important to have a comprehensive hearing evaluation by a doctor of audiology. The sooner that you address your hearing loss, the less negative impact it will have on your brain,” Rosenman-Nesson says.

Hearing Loss Can Be Managed and Treated.

The earlier you address the symptoms of hearing loss, the more likely you are to avoid irreversible damage. Get the answers you need to start treatment today.