Untreated Hearing Loss in Adults

Untreated Hearing Loss in Adults

While we hear with our ears, we process what we hear with our brain. Troubles with hearing can be associated with a host of emotional and psychological issues as well as cognitive problems. What happens if hearing loss in adults goes untreated?

Studies performed by Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging have shown hearing loss has a significant impact on cognitive function for adults. Even mild hearing loss can contribute to depression/anxiety, social isolation, and memory problems if left untreated.

Can hearing loss affect memory? Memory is influenced by what researchers call cognitive load. Cognitive load refers to the resources used for the tasks our brains perform every day, such as following a conversation. Struggling to hear and understand is very taxing to the language and auditory centers of the brain. Brains must work very hard to fill in gaps to make sense of sounds that are not clear. If too much energy is spent trying to perceive and understand what is heard, fewer resources are available to store information in your memory – and what is stored may be incorrect, leading to confusion.

Untreated hearing loss can also cause physical changes in the brain. MRI studies indicate a loss of gray matter in the auditory areas of the brain in those with untreated hearing loss. Lack of stimulation to the auditory cortex will cause atrophy in that portion of the brain. Like any other muscle in the body, it must be active to stay healthy. Appropriately fit hearing aids are one way to keep those parts of the brain stimulated.

There are other psycho-social effects of hearing loss that are not as well known. Many people have difficulty hearing in noisy situations, making it very hard to enjoy group activities. Because of this, people will stay home instead of going to restaurants with friends or participating socially with others. This isolation affects relationships and mood. Feeling isolated and out-of-touch with friends and family can lead to depression, anxiety and paranoia. Look at the following chart of symptoms. Can you tell the difference between memory loss and hearing loss?

Memory Loss Hearing Loss

Depression, anxiety, disorientation

Depression, anxiety, feeling isolated

Reduced language comprehension

Reduced communication ability

Impaired memory (especially short-term)

Reduced cognitive input

Inappropriate psychosocial responses


Inappropriate psychosocial responses

Loss of recognition ability (agnosia)

Reduced mental skills performance

Denial, defensiveness, negativity

Denial, defensiveness, negativity

Distrust and suspicion/paranoia of others


Distrust and suspicion/paranoia of others

If you or someone you know is exhibiting the above symptoms, and you are concerned that you have hearing loss that is undiagnosed, please contact Delaware Speech and Hearing Center (740-369-3650, contact@delawareshc.org) to schedule a comprehensive hearing evaluation.

Written by Donna Ramey, MA, Audiologist

Check out our last blog: Talking Begins With Imitation 

By |2018-07-18T19:49:58+00:00July 18th, 2018|Audiology, Education|1 Comment

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