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Think you have acquired a Hearing Loss?
Act now! Before your brain gets reorganised!

Posted: 21st May 2015


We have known for some years now that hearing loss is associated with increased risk of hearing loss and increased rates of cognitive decline. Now evidence is beginning to emerge that if we don’t take action early… the auditory part of the brain can become reorganised, meaning the person will benefit less from hearing aids or cochlear implants. DeafHear estimate that people wait an average of 10 years between acquiring a hearing loss and seeking treatment. Adults with mild age?related hearing loss Credit: Anu Sharma.

Adults with mild age–related hearing loss (right) show brain reorganization in which hearing portions of their brain are recruited for processing visual patterns. This is not seen in age-matched adults with normal hearing (left). Credit: Anu Sharma


Recently researchers at the University of Colorado have found evidence to suggest that the portion of the brain devoted to hearing can become reorganised ¨ reassigned to other functions ¨ even with early–stage hearing loss, and may play a role in cognitive decline.

People wait
an average of
10 years between
acquiring a
hearing loss
and seeking treatment.

Anu Sharma, of the Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science at University of Colorado, has applied fundamental principles of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to forge new connections, to determine the ways it adapts to hearing loss, as well as the consequences of those changes. She will present her findings during the 169th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), being held May 18–22, 2015 in Pittsburgh.

The work of Sharma’s group centres on electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings of adults and children with deafness and lesser hearing loss, to gain insights into the ways their brains respond differently from those of people with normal hearing. “We can examine certain biomarkers of cortical functioning, which tell us how the hearing portion of a deaf person’s brain is functioning compared to a person with normal hearing,” Sharma said.

Sharma and other researchers have recently discovered that the areas of the brain responsible for processing vision or touch can recruit, or take over, areas in which hearing is normally processed, but which receive little or no stimulation in deafness. This is called ‘cross–modal’ cortical reorganization and reflects a fundamental property of the brain to compensate in response to its environment. Sharma and her team also found that this ‘cross–modal’ effect happens not only in deaf patients, but is also clearly apparent in adult patients with only a mild degree of hearing loss.

One in three adults
over the age of 60
has age-related
hearing loss

The group’s work suggests that the portion of the brain used for hearing can become reorganized, even in earliest stages of age-related hearing loss. And, “these compensatory changes increase the overall load on the brains of aging adults,” Sharma said. This finding has important clinical implications for developing early screening programs for hearing loss in adults.

Further, the results suggest that age–related hearing loss must be taken seriously, even in its earliest stages. “One in three adults over the age of 60 has age-related hearing loss,” Sharma noted. “Given that even small degrees of hearing loss can cause secondary changes in the brain, hearing screenings for adults and intervention in the form of hearing aids should be considered much earlier to protect against reorganization of the brain.”

Brendan Lennon, DeafHear’s Head of Information said ‘This research reinforces what DeafHear has been saying for some time. If you think you have a hearing loss, don’t wait for ten years to do something about it. Act now and arrange a hearing test. It’s not just your hearing that’s at stake, but also your brain health.’

DeafHear believe that serious consideration should be given to hearing screening programmes for people aged over 50: one third of people aged over 60 have a significant hearing loss. Lennon points out that ‘the economic and personal cost of ignoring hearing loss is becoming a bigger burdern on society, especially as we are an ageing population that is living longer.’


SOURCE: Acoustical Society of America (ASA). “How does the brain respond to hearing loss?” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 May 2015. [View]


Concerned that you or a loved one may have a hearing loss?
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