We all have that one friend or family member. You know: The one that everyone makes fun of for missing the punchline of the joke or misunderstanding the key word that gets the message jumbled. I once had a patient tell me that he thought his wife asked him to “take her clothes off,” when she really told him to “turn the stove off.” I just left that one alone.
While missing out on sounds sometimes leads to funny stories, there is a much darker side to hearing loss, one that can have a significant impact on our health and brains. A 2011 study published in the Archives of Neurology, found that people with mild hearing loss were 1.89 times more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. People with a moderate hearing loss were 3 times more likely, and those with severe hearing loss were 4.94 times more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Another study in 2011 showed that 25-dB of hearing loss (approximately a 25% hearing loss) was equivalent to 7 years of aging on the brain. A 2014 study of 4463 people showed that hearing loss was associated with higher incidence of dementia, earlier onset, and overall poorer mental status.
The Hearing and Brain Connection
Our ears are the collectors of sound and transmitters of information to the brain. Sound enters the outer ear, travels as vibrations through the eardrum and middle ear, the inner ear changes those vibrations to neural (electrical) signals that are then sent to the brain.
This short video from the National Institutes of Health does a great job of showing how we hear from outer ear to brain.
Our brains are amazing super computers that interpret those electrical signals into meaningful messages. When we have hearing loss, our brains have less information to work with. Imagine trying to read a book with 10% or 20% or 50% of the words missing. This is what happens to our brains when we have hearing loss. Our brains then have to work overtime to try to fill in blanks and decipher even the simplest messages. The scientific term is called COGNITIVE LOAD. The theory is that there is so much stress on the working memory in the brain just trying to understand words, that there tend be long-term negative effects on the ability to think clearly and remember things.
What can we do about it?
A 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) listed mid-life hearing loss and smoking among the biggest modifiable risk factors for dementia, meaning limiting hearing loss in our 20s to 50s can decrease our risk for dementia later in life. The biggest cause for mid-life hearing loss is noise exposure. Noise-induced hearing loss can come from loud occupations, loud machinery like chainsaws, gas trimmers, tractors and mowers, shotguns, and even duck calls. This research emphasizes the importance of protecting our hearing at an early age not only to prevent the frustration and communication problems associated with decreased hearing, but maybe more importantly to reduce risk to our brains and memory.
At TETRA, we believe that hearing is one of our greatest assets as hunters, but also as fathers, mothers, spouses and friends. Don’t let your favorite past time rob you of your hearing and your health. Our AlphaShield and CustomShield line of hearing protection are great, comfortable options that not only protect your hearing but enhance the hunting experience.