Areas of the brain shrink without hearing

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Scientists at the University of Colorado may have discovered one of the ways hearing loss negatively affects the brain.

The researchers were studying neuroplasticity – or how the brain changes – to see how age-related hearing loss affects the brain.

They found that when hearing loss is present, the ‘hearing areas’ of the brain diminish. But that’s not all – they also found that the brain then recruits areas of the brain that are more typically used for higher decision-making functions. It uses these to process sound impulses, in what could be a way of replacing or compensating for the ‘shrunken’ brain areas that would usually be used for hearing.

This form of compensation increases the overall load on the brain and may contribute to cognitive decline.

Dr Anu Sharma of the University of Colorado’s Brain and Behavior Laboratory says, “Compensatory brain reorganization secondary to hearing loss may also be a factor in explaining recent reports in the literature that show age-related hearing loss is significantly correlated with dementia.”

She continues: “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.”

Researchers Discover Brain Reorganizes after Hearing Loss