Link to memory, cognitive function elevates urgency of treating hearing loss

A growing body of research links untreated hearing loss to impaired memory and diminished cognitive function, raising the significance of hearing health to overall cognitive health

According to Brandeis University Professor of Neuroscience, Dr. Arthur Wingfield, who has been studying cognitive aging and the relationship between memory and hearing acuity for many years, effortful listening due to unaddressed hearing loss is associated with increased stress and poorer performance on memory tests.

His research shows that even when people with unaddressed hearing loss perceive the words that are being spoken, their ability to remember the information suffers—likely because of the draw on their cognitive resources that might otherwise be used to store what has been heard in memory. This is especially true for the comprehension of quick, informationally complex speech that is part of everyday life.

“Even if you have just a mild hearing loss that is not being treated, cognitive load increases significantly,” Wingfield said. “You have to put in so much effort just to perceive and understand what is being said that you divert resources away from storing what you have heard into your memory.”

Wingfield—along with Jonathan Peelle from the Department of Otolaryngology at Washington University in St. Louis—recently published a paper in the July 2016 issue of Trends in Neurosciences exploring the neural consequences of untreated age-related hearing loss. In the paper, they explain that although compensation of hearing loss by other areas of the brain “can frequently result in successful comprehension, it is not without consequence for further operations, such as remembering what we have heard.”

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