Could hearing loss be making you forgetful? Find out how and why hearing loss affects your memory function now.
I t’s common knowledge that unresolved hearing loss can have an impact on stress and anxiety levels, but did you know it can affect your memory too? Memory loss is just one of the side effects of reduced hearing function, but it is one of the most important.
As well as having a significant impact on your confidence and day-to-day lifestyle, memory loss can often be misinterpreted as the onset of dementia. If you develop age-related hearing loss, for example, a subsequent reduction in memory function may not automatically be linked to hearing issues. However, there’s a good chance that your hearing loss is impacting your ability to retain and recall information.
Does hearing loss affect your memory?
Research has confirmed that hearing loss does have an impact on memory. In fact, it is believed that hearing loss can affect memory function in numerous ways. To understand why hearing function impacts memory, it’s important to look at the overall effect hearing loss can have on an individual.
When you are experiencing hearing loss, you will need to concentrate much more simply to recognize sounds. If you have a conversation with someone, for example, your concentration is directed at deciphering what the person is saying and trying to understand it. This means the brain is less focused on actually retaining the information.
Due to the increased concentration required to simply follow the conversation, the brain doesn’t store the information. Known as cognitive overload, the brain is too busy trying to listen to and interpret sounds to memorize the content too. Of course, when you try and remember the details of the conversation, the information simply isn’t there and so cannot be recalled.
You may feel like you’re unable to remember what you’ve heard but, in fact, the brain hasn’t even got as far as storing the information. Due to this, you won’t have the data you need for the recall function in your brain to work effectively. While the mechanism is still functioning, the information isn’t there to process.
Untreated hearing loss often leads to loneliness and isolation. A reduction in socializing is extremely common amongst people with unresolved hearing loss or tinnitus.
When you’re isolated, your brain is exposed to fewer stimuli. As a result, it doesn’t need to work as hard and becomes less active. This can lead to structural changes and even cause the brain to shrink. Isolation means that your memory function is being exercised as often, which reduces its capacity. Naturally, this has a negative impact on its performance. When it comes time to recall information, the reduced functioning of your memory means it’s harder for you to remember things.
Anxiety and depression
If hearing loss isn’t treated effectively, it can increase the risk of developing emotional and psychological and issues. Many people find that hidden hearing loss has a negative effect on their mental health, with a significant number of individuals experiencing increased anxiety and depression.
Studies into depression have shown that it can change the way your brain operates. When depression impacts the memory, it means you are less able to retain and recall information on demand.
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Identifying hearing-related memory loss
If you’re experiencing memory loss, it’s important to seek medical advice. While people often consult their primary care physician regarding reduced memory function, it’s advisable to contact a hearing care provider too.
A simple hearing test can assess your hearing function and determine whether you are experiencing any form of hearing loss. Even relatively mild hearing loss can cause cognitive overload, which means people can experience hearing-related memory loss without having moderate or severe hearing problems.
In fact, you may notice your memory loss before you’re aware of any reduction in your hearing function. As many people experience a reduction in hearing function gradually, it can take some time before it really has a noticeable impact on their day-to-day lives. While you may be aware of difficulties recalling information, you may not notice just how much you’re having to concentrate on following a conversation or listening to sounds, for example.
This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to have routine hearing tests. By undertaking a non-invasive exam, such as a pure tone audiometry hearing test, your hearing care professional can confirm whether or not you’re experiencing hearing loss. If so, the type, configuration and severity of your hearing loss can also be assessed swiftly.
Treating and preventing memory loss
When memory loss is related to hearing function, it can typically be resolved quickly and easily. By wearing hearing aids, for example, you can enhance your hearing function. This prevents cognitive overload, as the brain no longer needs to work hard simply to pick up and interpret sounds. This enables your brain to process information normally and means the information is stored in your memory, ready to be recalled as and when it’s needed.
In addition to this, wearing hearing aids greatly reduces the risk of social isolation. As you are able to continue with your usual lifestyle while wearing hearing devices, people are able to remain social and active. Similarly, hearing aids mitigate the effects of hearing loss, which means the risk of developing depression and anxiety are reduced.
This ensures your brain isn’t subjected to the structural changes that can occur over time due to isolation, reduced activity and depression. As you are able to maintain your lifestyle, your memory function and brain are still being exercised. Due to this, your ability to interpret, store and recall information is unaffected.
A hearing test and appropriate treatment can certainly help to combat existing hearing-related memory loss. However, there’s no need to wait until you start experiencing a reduction in memory function to consult a hearing care professional. By having regular hearing function tests, any potential hearing issues can be identified and resolved quickly, thus reducing the risk of related memory loss occurring.
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