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People avoid getting a hearing test for many reasons. Some people find it to be a hassle, but that excuse is often a mask over a much more complicated reason. Deep inside, many people think that admitting to hearing loss is akin to admitting to being old or lacking independence. Still, others see hearing loss as a sign of weakness, and they think that ignoring it will make it go away. In any case, the underlying logic is that avoiding the hearing test won’t make matters worse.
Although many people abide by this myth, in fact avoiding a hearing test can make hearing loss much worse indeed. Not only can hearing ability continue to degenerate through the aging process and through noise exposure, but the brain begins to process sound in quite different ways over time. In fact, avoiding that hearing test could even lead to serious issues beyond the domain of hearing, including dementia. Let’s consider the ways the brain responds to the lack of hearing ability, as well as the benefits of treatment.
Hearing Loss and Brain Functioning
Although in one sense hearing does happen in the ears, these organs are only useful inasmuch as they can transmit sonic information to the brain where it is processed. Once the ears have transformed sound pressure into electrical impulses, the auditory nervous system passes along that electrical signal to the brain where it can be processed. The neural network is an amazing and still mysterious function of the body, but we do know the general regions in which the brain is active when it performs different tasks.
In the case of sound processing, the auditory cortex is the motherboard for understanding sound. Once this lobe of the brain has categorized and processed sound, it is committed to short-term memory and sent along to other parts of the brain for language and symbolic understanding. However, when the ears are not picking up a complete picture of the surrounding world, some of that processing power has to take place in other regions of the brain.
Specifically, the auditory cortex can’t do its comparatively simple process of conversion to short-term memory, and the frontal cortex is recruited to the task. This region of the brain is usually devoted to higher-order thinking, and its expertise should not be given to something like decoding sound. Many theories of the connection between hearing loss and dementia point to brain atrophy in the auditory cortex and an overly heavy cognitive load placed on the frontal cortex. Over time this strain placed on the frontal cortex can lead to more profound cognitive dysfunction, including dementia.
Treatment and Prevention
When looked at in this manner, it is clear why getting treatment for hearing loss is essential to your brain health. When the auditory cortex is presented with a relatively complete picture of the sonic world, including all the parts of speech that combine to create meaning, it can continue to function as it should. Hearing aids can fill in the gaps in sound that are left by hearing loss. Even by filling in some of the phonemes and words that are lost to hearing loss, the picture can be complete enough to allow the auditory cortex to function rather than over-taxing the frontal cortex with the task of sorting through random sonic information.
With this reality in context, none of the excuses you might imagine for a hearing test make much sense. You might prefer to avoid the inconvenience of the test or the reality check it provides to you, but the sacrifice is far too great.
The time is now to schedule a hearing test if you have been putting off getting one. Not only will you be able to relieve the exhaustion that hearing loss causes, but also hearing aids can fill in some of the gaps in language that prevent cognitive dysfunction. The test itself is simple, quick, and painless, and our hearing health professionals will take over the task of interpreting the results and matching you with the right pair of hearing aids for your needs. With your individual lifestyle in mind, we can find a solution that works for you!