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Hearing is thinking

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Good hearing helps your brain stay fit throughout your life – and helps avoid many other health problems.

This means that hearing health is brain health.


Your brain may need more sound!

If your brain doesn’t get the sound information it needs, you'll find it more difficult to understand what people are saying and what's happening around you.

In this way, a hearing problem becomes a brain problem, which turns into life problems.

It’s because of how hearing works in the brain's hearing centre.

How hearing works in the brain

Sound travels from your ears to your brain's hearing centre, where there are two subsystems: The orient subsystem and the focus subsystem*. These constantly work together to help you understand the sound scene around you.

  1. The orient subsystem constantly scans your surroundings to create a full overview of the sound scene.

  2. The focus subsystem helps you select which sounds to listen to and which sounds to switch your attention to – while the irrelevant sounds are filtered out.

From here, sound is used by other brain centres including for memory and emotions.

What happens if your brain doesn’t get enough sound?

With hearing loss, there isn’t enough sound information coming to your brain from your ears, or the quality of that information is too low.

This makes it much harder for the brain to orient itself in your surroundings – which then makes it harder to focus on what’s important.

It affects all the different parts of your brain that make sense of your surroundings. They all have to work harder.

This leaves fewer mental resources for other things like remembering.

The consequences of untreated hearing loss

Because hearing is a mental process, untreated or poorly treated hearing loss can lead to negative consequences for your brain. For your brain to work in the way it is meant to, it needs the full sound perspective.

If the brain’s access to sound is limited – such as by inadequate treatment of hearing loss – it can lead to serious problems in life:

Social isolation and depression

People with untreated hearing loss may reach a stage where they avoid social gatherings because they are unable to cope with complex sound environments. This increases the risk of loneliness, social isolation, and depression.

· Poor balance and fall-related injuries

Untreated hearing loss can affect people’s balance, which increases the risk of fall-related injuries three-fold.

· Accelerated cognitive decline

Increased mental load, lack of stimulation, and reorganized brain functionality are linked to accelerated cognitive decline, which affects your ability to remember, learn, concentrate, and make decisions.

· Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

The risk for dementia is increased five-fold for severe-to-profound hearing loss, three-fold for moderate hearing loss and two-fold for mild hearing loss.

What can you do to keep your brain healthy?

Get professional hearing advice

One of the most important things you can do is to get a hearing test – and then get proper treatment if you have any type of hearing loss.

A good sense of hearing with effective treatment of significant hearing loss is a key to maintaining a healthy brain throughout your life.

A qualified hearing care professional or audiologist can test your hearing for any signs of hearing loss. They can advise you on good, brain-friendly hearing aids and set them up to support your brain in the best way possible.

*O’Sullivan et al. (2019) & Puvvada et al. (2017)

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