Your Brain and Hearing

You’ve probably heard us say that “we hear with our brain” and “we have two ears for as many reasons as we have two eyes.”

The ears funnel sound, which passes through the hearing organ and is processed by our brain. When there is a hearing loss present, our brain focuses much harder to process the incoming signals.

“I am going to go for a walk at the botanical gardens. They have an exhibit on orchids I am interested in. I’m planning on going with Shirley, would you like to come?

Typically, it is not the whole sentence that one misses with hearing loss but sounds within a sentence. For someone with a hearing loss it may sound like this:

“I am going to go for a wa at the botanical garden. They have an exh on I am . I’m planning on going with , would you like to come?

When we miss the small bits and pieces of speech, our brain works hard to analyze what has been said, compares what has been heard to the context, and then fills in the blanks. In the best of situations when communication is close, the lighting is good and the setting quiet, the listener can fill in the context with greater ease. With more distractions, the brain focuses much harder, and it becomes more difficult to fill in the gaps.

As you continue to focus on filling in these gaps throughout the day, your brain learns to process sound differently. If you have attended one of our seminars on hearing and the brain, then you know we go into much more detail on this subject.

In the field of audiology, research on hearing loss and the relationship with dementia has been a hot topic. We cannot say that hearing loss causes cognitive decline, but there is clear evidence that brain changes occur when we are missing information. Current research suggests that the brain will reorganize itself when straining to hear what is said. So even someone with a mild hearing loss will put in more listening effort to hear.

A correlation between hearing loss and dementia does not mean that hearing loss causes dementia. The research from Dr. Frank Lin from Johns Hopkins suggests that if a person was predestined to get dementia and they have diagnosed hearing loss (which causes them to strain to hear), the combination may evidence an earlier onset of dementia as compared to someone with normal hearing. It is exciting to see that the current research shows with treated hearing loss (amplification with hearing aids), the brain does not undergo the same changes as an untreated ear. Another good reason for early adoption of hearing aids.

If you would like more information, please talk to one of the audiologists at your next appointment.

Read it again! Get this article, and more like it, by downloading a copy of our Spring 2017 newsletter.

For additional information on this subject, the information from this article was taken from Audiology Today’s 2016 review of “Cognitive Decline and Hearing Loss” and from the research labs of Frank Lin et al., 2015, and Sharma et al., 2016, 2017.
Dr. Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins University
Dr. Anu Sharma at the University of Colorado