It is often thought that when one of our senses diminishes that one of our other senses can compensate for that deficiency. In a study by Anu Sharma, PhD., of the University of Colorado Boulder (2020), there is supporting evidence of the correlation and cooperation that our senses have with one another. This is called cross-modal recruitment.
Our brain is comprised of very complex mechanisms in which input is processed, analyzed and thus reacted too. The cortical regions of our brain that gets this information first is called our primary sensory cortices. It used to be believed that each of our senses sent information to its own private sensory cortex. This latest study shows that our senses do indeed help take up the slack of a weakened “other” sense.
The study is “Cortical Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Function in Early-Stage, Mild-Moderate Hearing Loss: Evidence of Neurocognitive Benefit from Hearing Aid Use.”
OK, now to break this down. The study evaluated the cognitive function and speech perception abilities in adults with “untreated, mild-moderate age-related hearing loss or ARHL.” They then age-matched patients with normal hearing thresholds. They measured their cognitive abilities and also their speech perception. Patients with hearing loss were fit professionally with premium, high quality hearing instruments. The fitting was verified with appropriate measures, such as real ear measurement.
People in the study had to wear the aids a minimum of five hours a day for six months. The average age of participants in the study was 64 years. At the end of six months it was found that patients actually averaged 10 hours a day of hearing aid usage.
The study showed that after six months, the brain re-organized itself when dealing with the mild to moderate hearing loss. Cortical reorganization was evident with increased cognitive abilities. Patients showed exceptional improvement with speech in noise tasks. “Before being fit with the hearing instruments the patients exhibited, extensive recruitment of auditory, frontal and pre-frontal cortices during a visual motion processing task than the patients who did not have a hearing loss.” (Anu Sharma, 2020; interview with Douglas L. Beck AuD., adjunct clinical professor of Communication Disorders and Sciences at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He also serves as senior editor of Clinical Research for the Hearing Review.) This study provides proof that brain changes are secondary to the hearing loss.
After the six months of wearing hearing premium hearing instruments; and the brain’s restructuring, patients also had gains in speech perception and cognitive performance. This is awesome news. This provides new and conclusive evidence that wearing professionally fit premium hearing instruments can provide, as well as promote brain re-organization and cognitive benefit.
Back to the other senses ... If you have a hearing loss and don’t treat it, then the area of the cortices that belong to the auditory stimulus actually starts to be “used up” or “confiscated” by your other senses. Thus, your brain starts to put things in the wrong spots. Wearing the premium hearing instruments and re-introducing sounds and speech back into the brain where it belongs will cause the brain to “re-organize” back to its original state. After just six months of premium hearing instrument use, the brain showed improvement in visual working memory, processing speeds and executive functions.
According to a study published in the Lancet in 2017, it was determined that one of the nine risk factors leading to dementia was hearing loss. Hearing loss is a risk that you can modify. This study also determined that hearing loss was “the most significant modifiable factor” concerning the progression of dementia.
This is a very extensive and exciting study. Just absorb this for a bit. When we get older, we lose muscle mass. If we go to the gym or work out with weights we can rebuild our muscles, our strength. As we get older and get an age related hearing loss (ARHL) our brain starts to let our senses ‘high-jack’ our auditory spaces in the brain. This causes us to slow down cognitively. Our memory suffers, as well as our speech perception, especially in noise. Correcting your hearing loss with premium hearing instruments is to the brain, like lifting weights is for your body and muscles.
Premium professionally fit and verified hearing instruments provide the broadest frequency range and the most advanced processors for the separation of speech and noise. In other words, they can correct the broadest and most complete area of your hearing loss. If you are experiencing hearing loss or notice any differences in your memory then I urge you to reach out to schedule a comprehensive hearing evaluation. Don’t put it off! To Hear Better Is To Live Better!
Roseann B. Kiefer, B.A., BC-HIS, is owner of Lampe and Kiefer Hearing Aid Center, Sebring. This information is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure your condition. Always talk to your doctor before following any medical advice or starting a diet or exercise program.