Age-related hearing loss is a complex condition with causes and mechanisms linked to genetics, environment, metabolism, vascular issues, and immunity. It manifests as sensorineural hearing loss, primarily due to damage or loss of inner ear hair cells and neurons.
Let's delve into how this condition affects crucial brain functions. First, it's essential to note that inner ear hair cells and neurons play a vital role in converting sound signals into electrical signals transmitted to the brain. When these structures are compromised, the transmission and processing of sound signals are disrupted, leading to a decline in auditory perception and speech understanding.
Age-related hearing loss not only affects the auditory system but also impacts various brain regions, whether related to or unrelated to hearing.
1. Brain Atrophy
Age-related hearing loss contributes to a reduction in gray and white matter in the auditory cortex and other brain regions related to hearing. This decline may be attributed to neuronal degeneration or synaptic reshaping caused by a lack of auditory stimulation.
2. Decline in Cognitive Function
Age-related hearing loss can affect cognitive function through mechanisms such as reduced neural plasticity due to a lack of auditory stimulation, increased cognitive load from hearing impairments, and decreased social interaction leading to isolation and depression.
Age-related hearing loss emerges as a significant risk factor for dementia. Studies, including those in publications like "The Lancet," indicate a positive correlation between hearing issues and the occurrence and progression of dementia. In simple terms, the more severe the hearing loss, the higher the risk and faster progression of dementia.
How to Prevent and Intervene in Hearing Issues?
Age-related hearing loss has significant impacts on life, but fret not – it is preventable and manageable.
Prevention of Hearing Loss:
- Protect Your Ears: Avoid prolonged exposure to noisy environments. Consider using earplugs or earmuffs for protection. When using headphones, control the volume and limit listening time to under 60 decibels and 60 minutes.
Control Chronic Conditions:
- Seek timely medical attention, adhere to prescribed medications, and manage indicators like blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Adopt healthy lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, weight management, and increased physical activity.
Regular Hearing Check-ups:
- Conduct systematic screenings for high-risk groups, including newborns, infants, preschool and school-aged children, individuals exposed to occupational noise or chemicals, those undergoing ear-toxic medication, and seniors.
Intervention for Hearing Loss:
- Address hearing loss promptly with appropriate measures to mitigate any adverse effects. This may involve using hearing aids, cochlear implants, or middle ear implants to enhance hearing capabilities.
Additionally, alternative means such as sign language, sensory substitutes like speech reading, writing in the palm of a deaf person, vibration-based auditory methods, and sign language can stimulate the brain.