By Ariane Laplante-Lévesque, PhD and Jill Preminger, PhD
Cognition describes the abilities and processes of the brain that relate to knowledge.
Researchers and hearing care professionals know the role of cognition in hearing and in hearing loss. When conversing, people with hearing loss hear some words, but mishear other words. Part of the brain power of people with hearing loss is therefore spent figuring out the misheard words. This is especially the case in noisy places and when many people are talking at once, because noise makes hearing harder.
People with hearing loss often say that conversations turn into a “filling in the blanks” game for them. This can be a fun game for a few minutes, but it become tiring to always wonder what has just been said. Furthermore, when a person’s brain power is busy guessing what has been said, it cannot complete other cognition processes such as storing information into memory. Are people with hearing loss aware of the interplay between hearing loss, ears, and brain? Should hearing care professionals explain the role of cognition to their patients?
To find out, we asked 34 adults with hearing loss to tell us the story of their hearing*. When we analyzed the stories the participants told us, we realized that people with hearing loss not only think of their hearing loss as affecting their ears, but also as interacting with their brain. Participants also mentioned aging and its relation to cognition. For example, participants mentioned age-related cognitive changes, either changes that they expected or that they had experienced.
The participants discussed three aspects of cognition in relation to their hearing:
- Plasticity: Participants were very aware of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change. Participants described for example their expectations or experiences with learning to use new hearing aids.
- Operations: Participants described cognitive operations: many had a sophisticated understanding of how hearing and cognitive operations interact.
- Effort: Participants also described what happened when cognitive operations were taxed, or overloaded, resulting in effort and, ultimately, fatigue. For participants, this could be alleviated with rehabilitation, for example hearing aids.
Adults with hearing loss are aware that their cognition interacts with their hearing. Hearing care professionals should explain to their patients the interplay between cognition and hearing loss and, most importantly, the consequences of these on living with hearing loss. People with hearing loss are curious about this! Hearing care professionals can also describe how rehabilitation plays a role in the complex interplay between hearing loss, ears, and brain.
To find out more about this study, please visit the Eriksholm Research Centre website or read the scientific article from 2014**.
*Laplante-Lévesque A, Knudsen LV, Preminger JE, Jones L, Nielsen C, Öberg M, Lunner T, Hickson L, Naylor G, Kramer SE. (2012). Hearing help-seeking and rehabilitation: Perspectives of adults with hearing impairment. International Journal of Audiology, 51, 93–102.
**Preminger JE, Laplante-Lévesque A. (2014). Perceptions of age and brain in relation to hearing help-seeking and rehabilitation. Ear and Hearing, 35, 19-29.