Man consulting an Audiologist about his hearing loss

Connect The Dots: Memory, Attention, or Hearing Loss?

The majority of people who lose their hearing — usually those 60 and older — lose their ability to hear speech clearly. It starts out slowly. You begin to mishear words like “sick” for “sit” or “fix” instead of “fixed.” Sometimes what you mishear is comical: “urine test” for “hearing test.” It starts slowly; you miss the punch lines of jokes. You don’t laugh and start to hope that if you just keep listening, you will figure out what’s being said. You start to rely on lipreading, also known as speechreading, to understand more accurately. You might “hear better with your glasses on” — sounds that are hard for you to hear are easy to read on the lips (th, f, p, sh).

All is great when people stay put while talking to you and never move. The problem with this is that the world is highly dynamic. A person with normal hearing can understand easily while someone else moves about a room and talks. If you understand people when they face you but lose understanding when they talk and walk away, it’s because you need to read their lips for accuracy. We really call it speechreading because you use the hearing that you have and complement it with the lip movements for improved accuracy.

The problem becomes more complex when you’re having a conversation with two or more people. You are unable to watch two people’s faces at the same time to accurately speechread. You are constantly actively involved in problem solving the situation. Is it “six” or “sixty” or “sick?” Our thought processes happen fast. If we did a functional MRI of your brain, the temporal lobe (listening area) would be lit up, as would the frontal (paying attention) and occipital (visual center) lobes. In someone with normal hearing, only the temporal lobe lights up.

The more you have to pay attention, the more you have to “autocorrect” what you hear, and the more tired you become. It is mentally and physically exhausting to have to use that many resources to understand. Even if you have a mild loss, it is still work. If the noisy environment persists, your brain is going to be overworked. When this happens, you either become very cranky, very tired, or “space out” and drop out of the conversation. Even worse, you may start avoiding situations. If you stop doing what you love, it can lead to depression, especially when you still have a vital mind.

Memory and hearing loss are easily confused. Hearing loss competes with memory and plays into everyone’s greatest fear: dementia or senility. You can’t remember things because you didn’t hear them accurately, or you had competing thoughts going on while you tried to figure out what was truly said. You cannot take in new information because your brain is too busy. Untreated hearing loss rapidly increases stress, which we all know is toxic to the body. The more stressed you are, the greater the decrease in blood flow to micro vessels that feed the nutrition to the ear.

Hearing aids will lessen the stress, reduce mental and physical fatigue, allow your ears to hear clearly, and allow your brain to perform one task at a time versus “double time.” Treating hearing loss, good exercise, and healthy diet lead to a happier, easier, more relaxing and joyful life. I’ve seen it over and over again. The journey has to be fruitful and worth it or you always get your money back. Call us at (610) 431-2411 for an appointment to find out more.