Tag: dementia

Illustration of a silhouette of a human head with a brain - represented by a rain cloud - inside

Could Healthy Hearing Help People With Movement Disorders?

Your ears and your brain are fast friends. In fact, it seems like a new connection is reported every few months. There’s even a growing body of research showing that untreated hearing loss is linked to dementia.

That’s why we encourage annual hearing checkups. Catching changes in hearing early keeps a host of other issues at bay. And we’re just scratching the surface of what we know about the ear-brain connection.

Your ears and brain are so well connected, in fact, that one recent study in Scientific Reports is based on a link the researchers discovered on accident. It’s a link that could improve the assistive devices used by people with movement disorders or limb loss.

Brain-Computer Interfaces

A research team called BrainGate develops brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). These are implants that use nerve signals in the brain to manipulate assistive devices such as prosthetic limbs. Most BCI implants are put in a part of the brain that controls planning to act called the motor cortex. The BrainGate team wondered how workable it was to gather nerve signals earlier than that, though.

Could they use nerve signals from an area of the brain responsible for the simple urge to act — before the planning-to-act brain region gets involved? If so, they might be able to speed up BCI response times.

An Accidental Discovery

One clinical trial participant, because of a spinal cord injury, no longer had the use of his arms and legs. During a simple movement exercise that involved visual cues, his brain was monitored by fMRI. It showed activity in a certain area of this urge-to-act region of his brain.

They repeated the experiment with the BCI implant, instead of fMRI. To their surprise, the implant didn’t register activity in that same area. But while reviewing data from a related research session, they found something equally surprising. During the movement exercise, when they used verbal — not visual — cues, the implant picked up strong signals from that same urge-to-act area.

A Study With Only One Participant

To the BrainGate team, it seemed like this urge-to-act area didn’t care at all about visual cues, only sound-based cues. They designed a new study using the BCI implant to test their hypothesis. It had a sample size of only one — that same spinal-cord-injury participant mentioned above — and the research alternated between visual-only and sound-based-only cues.
They found that the urge-to-act area responded to sound-based cues but not to visual cues. They also found that the planning-to-act area responded to both, and had no preference either way.
The results were published in Scientific Reports in the article “Auditory cues reveal intended movement information in middle frontal gyrus neuronal ensemble activity of a person with tetraplegia.”

Why It Matters

The BrainGate team has some successes under their belt. People with spinal cord injury, brainstem stroke, and ALS have managed to control a computer cursor simply by thinking about the corresponding limb movement. In clinical research, they’ve managed intuitive control over advanced prosthetic limbs. Plus, people with paralysis have enjoyed easy control over powerful external devices.

By discovering that this urge-to-act area responds to sound cues, they can use it as a complement to the planning-to-act area, and BCI implants can gather movement data from two different regions of the brain. The researchers hope to one day use BCIs to enable reliable, intuitive, naturally controlled movement of paralyzed limbs.

And healthy hearing could be an important piece of this exciting puzzle.

Cognitive Decline is a Real Risk With Hearing Loss

Dementia a Real Risk With Hearing Loss

If you think of hearing loss as just an inconsequential part of getting older, you’re not alone.

The truth is, however, that the condition can strike even the youngest among us ó more than one in 1,000 babies screened has some form of hearing impairment, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data ó and it can trigger other health problems, too.

Take cognitive decline, for example, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Research has long pointed to links between hearing loss and reduced brain functioning over time, but the statistics may surprise you.

Consider these startling findings:

  • On average, seniors with hearing loss experience significantly reduced cognitive function 3.2 years before their normal-hearing counterparts.
  • Hearing-impaired seniors experience thinking and memory problems 30 to 40 percent faster than their normal-hearing counterparts.
  • Older adults with a hearing disability may lose over a cubic centimeter of brain tissue annually beyond normal shrinkage.
  • Those with hearing loss are two, three, or nearly five times as likely to develop dementia, depending on the severity of the hearing impairment.

So what’s the connection between hearing impairment and cognitive decline? It’s not completely clear how hearing loss, which is also associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other common public-health challenges, contributes to development of dementia.

What is clear, however, is the importance of regular hearing checkups to help stave off the threat of cognitive impairment. Tackling risk factors such as hearing loss earlier on could cut dementia cases by a third, according to a research collaborative led by UK psychiatry professor Gill Livingston and involving the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK, and other individuals, institutions, and organizations.

As one of your most crucial senses for communication and perception, hearing not only helps you stay connected to the world but helps keep your brain sharp. Give your hearing health and overall wellness a hand by staying active, eating a diet rich in important nutrients, avoiding excess noise, and scheduling regular hearing checkups.


Munch to Better Hearing

Hearing power is brainpower, and some key foods can help! Certain vitamins and minerals can go a long way toward supporting your hearing wellness, according to HealthyHearing.com. In honor of National Nutrition Month in March, check out these examples:

  • Bananas

    These reliable delights are rich in potassium, an important mineral for regulating blood and tissue fluid levels ó including in the inner ear, which plays an important role in hearing and balance.

  • Broccoli

    This versatile vegetable with an edible stalk and green flowering head provides folate, which studies have linked to healthy outcomes such as decreased risk of hearing impairment among older men.

  • Tomatoes

    These juicy fruits ó easy to grow and delicious cooked in a sauce or served raw ó offer magnesium, which, combined with vitamins A, C, and E, help thwart noise-induced hearing loss.

  • Dark-Meat Chicken

    This flavorful part of the bird ó along with other foods such as beef, oysters, and legumes ó delivers zinc, which supports the immune system and may help fight tinnitus or ringing in the ears.


Sources:
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Accelerates Brain Function Decline in Older Adults. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_accelerates_brain_function_decline_in_older_adults. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_accelerated_brain_tissue_loss_. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
The JAMA Network | JAMA Neurology. Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/802291. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. A Prospective Study of Vitamin Intake and the Risk of Hearing Loss in Men. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2853884/. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. Free Radical Scavengers Vitamins A, C, and E Plus Magnesium Reduce Noise Trauma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1950331/. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.
U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. The Role of Zinc in the Treatment of Tinnitus. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12544035. Accessed Feb. 5, 2018.

Better Hearing Q&A: Is There A Link Between Hearing Loss And Dementia?

Phrenology1Our patients always have great questions about hearing and hearing technology. We feel it’s our obligation as the community’s only AudigyCertifiedTM hearing professionals to provide you more than exceptional hearing care and technology recommendations; we are here to give you the informative answers you’re looking for so you can confidently make educated decisions about your hearing health.

Q: I’ve heard that there’s a link between hearing loss and dementia—is this true?

A: What an important question. This subject has been in the news quite a bit lately. For years researchers have suspected a connection between hearing loss and dementia, but just this year a study funded by the National Institutes of Health determined that a mild hearing loss of 25 decibels (dB) can increase the development of cognitive problems by 30% to 40%.

When asked for an explanation of the cognitive decline, Frank Lin—Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine otologist and assistant professor, and the study’s lead author—offered as possible contributing factors the combination of social isolation and the extra mental effort it takes to understand sounds.

Dementia is on the rise in the U.S. with over 4 million affected by the malady, and recent estimates place the cost on families and society at $157 billion to $215 billion a year, making it more expensive than cancer and heart disease.

Hearing should become a regular part of the conversation during general health exams, and regular hearing evaluations the norm, in order to delay the onset of cognitive decline.

While hearing aids aren’t a cure for the effects of dementia, appropriately fit hearing technology is designed to alleviate the energy required to understand sounds, and to decrease feelings of isolation by reengaging people with the world around them through better hearing.