by: Nimet Adam, Au.D.
There is a lot of research today linking hearing loss to dementia and cognitive decline. For more information about this refer to research done by Frank Lin, M.D and Anu Sharma, Ph.D. These researchers are shedding light on the changes that occur in the brain as a result of hearing loss. The harder the brain has to work on hearing the less it can work on other cognitive processes.
You have probably heard your Audiologist say “you don’t hear with your ears, you hear with your brain”. This is because the ear is designed to transmit sound but the brain is where we attach meaning to sound. To keep the areas of the brain that process sound healthy, we must provide the brain with appropriate sound. Therefore, we counsel our patients to wear their hearing devices a minimum of 12 hours a day. By doing this we are re-training the brain, so it can “re-learn” how to process sound again. Even in quiet, the brain needs sound, so it can store the everyday sounds like the air conditioning or doorbell into your auditory memory. This auditory memory is compromised when you develop hearing loss. Hearing loss creates a sound void in the brain so that it ‘forgets” how to process this information. Once you start wearing your hearing devices, you re-activate these forgotten areas and the brain begins to re-learn and store auditory information again.
In addition to being fit with custom hearing devices, it is important to continue to train the brain with auditory exercises. The LACE (Listening and Communication Enhancement) program is an on-line auditory training program that provides listening exercises proven to:
- Help improve brain processing speed
- Improve working memory
- Significantly improve your ability to listen in noise
The aging brain causes processing of information to slow down and hearing loss affects what gets stored in the working memory. Increased distractions such as noise and multiple speakers also affect the brain’s ability to filter and focus. Many patients that are fit with excellent hearing technology still struggle in noise and difficult listening environments. This is because a hearing aid has limitations. Brain training exercises can help to fill this gap.