Have you ever been in a conversation where you couldn’t properly hear someone, then asked them to repeat themselves several times…only to give up and either pretend to agree or understand? Imagine that was now your way of life, and not a result of the noisy environment around you. This is the reality of many people today that suffer from hearing loss.
If you had to live like that constantly, how difficult would social interactions become? How much more energy would it take for you to follow conversations and communicate clearly? At what point would you begin to withdraw from your loved ones because it’s either too hard to understand or because it’s emotionally painful to no longer be able to connect?
As hearing loss increases with age and noise exposure, the brain spends more and more energy processing sound and less focus is given to thinking and memory. When people suffer from diminished hearing, social interactions cause a greater degree of mental fatigue while also creating rifts in communication. The result is often depression, confusion, and anxiety. When loved ones withdraw from family members and caregivers, the isolation makes it even harder to cope.
Not only that, but poor hearing affects our ability to move well, think well, and interferes with how we process information from all other senses. This can make movement difficult or cause an increase in falls and injuries.
These factors together can lead to cognitive decline, especially when coupled with genetic factors. At HEI we are seeing a greater correlation between hearing loss and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Currently, we are studying how toxic misfolded proteins in the inner ear contribute to the problem of hearing loss and can lead to an increased danger cognitive decline.
If our theory is correct, we may be closer to not only unlocking the treatments for hearing loss but potentially a cure for these neurodegenerative diseases that currently have no remedy.