Did you turn up the TV last night? It might be a sign of hearing loss if you did. The problem is… you can’t quite remember. And that’s been happening more often, too. At work yesterday, you couldn’t even remember your new co-worker’s name. You just met her, but still–it feels like you’re losing your grip on your memory and your hearing. And there’s only one common denominator you can think of: you’re getting older.
Now, sure, age can be related to both hearing loss and memory malfunction. But it turns out these two age-associated symptoms are also related to each other. That might sound like bad news at first (not only do you have to cope with hearing loss, you have to work around your waning memory, too–wonderful). But the truth is that the connection between hearing loss and memory can often be a blessing in disguise.
How hearing impacts memory
Hearing loss can be taxing for your brain in a number of ways, well before you’re aware of the diminishing prowess of your ears. Though the “spillover” effects may start out small, over time they can expand, encompassing your brain, your memory, even your social life.
How does a deficiency of your ear impact so much of your brain? Well, there are a few distinct ways:
- An abundance of quiet: As your hearing begins to waver, you’re going to experience more quiet (especially if your hearing loss goes unnoticed and untreated). This can be, well, kind of boring for the parts of your brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds. This boredom might not seem like a serious issue, but disuse can actually cause parts of your brain to atrophy or weaken. That can cause a certain amount of generalized stress, which can interfere with your memory.
- Social isolation: When you have difficulty hearing, you’ll likely encounter some additional challenges communicating. That can lead some people to isolate themselves. And isolation can lead to memory problems because, again, your brain isn’t getting as much interaction as it used to. When those (metaphorical) muscles aren’t engaged, they start to weaken. In the long run, social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and memory problems.
- Constant strain: In the early stages of hearing loss, especially, your brain is going to experience a kind of hyper-activation fatigue. That’s because your brain will be straining to hear what’s going on out in the world, even though there’s no input signal (your brain doesn’t know you’re experiencing hearing loss–it just thinks things are real quiet, so it devotes a lot of energy to trying to hear in that silent environment). This can leave your brain (and your body) feeling exhausted. That mental and physical exhaustion often leads to memory loss.
Memory is an early warning system for your body
Memory loss isn’t unique to hearing loss, of course. There are plenty of things that can cause your recollections to start getting fuzzy, including illness or fatigue (either mental or physical varieties). Eating better and sleeping well, for example, can often improve your memory.
In this way, memory is kind of like the canary in the coalmine for your body. Your brain starts raising red flags when things aren’t working properly. And having difficulty recalling who said what in yesterday’s meeting is one of those red flags.
Those red flags can be useful if you’re trying to keep an eye out for hearing loss.
Memory loss often points to hearing loss
The signs and symptoms of hearing loss can often be difficult to detect. Hearing loss is one of those slow-moving ailments. Once you actually notice the associated symptoms, the damage to your hearing tends to be farther along. However, if you start noticing symptoms associated with memory loss and get checked out early, there’s a good chance you can prevent some damage to your hearing.
Getting your memories back
In cases where hearing loss has affected your memory, either via mental exhaustion or social isolation, treatment of your underlying hearing problem is the first step in treatment. When your brain stops overworking and overstressing, it’ll be able to return to its normal activities. It can take a few months for your brain to re-adjust to hearing again, so be patient.
The red flags raised by your memory loss could help you be a little more conscious about protecting your hearing, or at least treating your hearing loss. As the years start to add up, that’s definitely a lesson worth remembering.