7 reasons why your ears are critical for preserving brain function
Listen Up! When Hearing Loss Affects More Than Hearing, You Can Use Your Voice to Boost Your Brain
7 reasons why your ears are critical for preserving brain function and what you can do about them: Maintain Hearing Health
The ear and the auditory system consist of an amazing number of nerves and complex neural pathways that underpin many essential mental functions. When these functions begin to fade and hearing loss becomes evident, many of the cognitive deficits associated with aging appear; decreased focus and attention, poor memory, social isolation, loss of confidence and low energy, to name just a few. The auditory system is also implicated in other key functions, like balance and posture, therefore continuing to exercise and work at preserving it is crucial for optimal functioning.
Here are 7 reasons why preserving the auditory system is critical – and how you can do it:
Maintain Hearing Health
- Hearing is essential for social communication, and social communication is critical for brain preservation. Social interaction uses many cognitive functions like face recognition, attention, empathy, language and speaking skills, and so on. Many neuroscience experts believe that social interaction is at least as critical to preserving cognitive function as playing online or other brain games. When social skills and confidence fall, people withdraw, which only exacerbates cognitive decline.
- The ear is involved in both posture and balance; both of which are central to a major concern for seniors – falling. The orientation of one’s self in physical space contributes to both balance and posture, which are very important for retaining mobility. When mobility declines, social withdrawal and isolation are much more likely.
- Auditory circuits in the brain are central to sensory processing, keeping people connected to their environment. Sound and the auditory system are implicated in the majority of sensory messages we receive. The ability to accurately receive and interpret sensory information is central to staying connected to the environment and having confidence that you can navigate it.
- Auditory processing is associated with increased attention and focus, which are critical parts of cognitive function. Often it is poor attention that precedes memory loss. If you can’t focus, you can’t remember. Maintaining focus and attention are very important across almost all cognitive functions, including memory.
- And speaking of memory, sensory processing and focus are keys to memory, especially short term and working memory, essential in everyday functioning. Verbal memory is particularly important because we tend to think in words and verbal memory is a critical part of short term memory.
- Increased sensory integration and processing elevates many cognitive domains leading to increased energy and even mood, thus energizing an individual and enhancing confidence and motivation, another essential component of healthy aging.
- The brain is in constant need of a workout and that includes the billions of cells involved in the auditory network, so working specifically on speaking and listening skills really gives the brain a good workout.
So, does that mean we all need to invest in hearing aids to preserve cognitive function? Hearing aids can be helpful in offsetting some auditory problems but there are some other things you can do to keep the auditory system sharp and help to compensate for hearing loss.
One of the most efficient activities is simply using your own voice. Indeed, your voice is one of the most powerful ways to activate your auditory system.
First, the sound of your voice is transmitted to your brain by bone conduction which hearing aids cannot do. Bone conduction is the natural manner of hearing yourself. Just plug your ears and speak out loud to feel and hear the vibration. It is not only natural but 10 times faster than air conduction and has a much greater quality, enhancing the speaker’s attention. (Have you ever noticed that you remember what you have said more than what you have listened to?)
Second, your voice is activating a natural loop called the “auditory feedback loop.” This loop is giving the nervous system a solid sensory workout by requiring permanent feedback for control and adjustment. Even if speaking seems simple for most of us, the fact is it is one of the most advanced cognitive tasks humans do. It entails a complex interaction between motor and sensory components, which challenges the brain.
Third, pay attention to posture. When you do the following exercises, stand up or stay seated but make sure that your head is well positioned, as if it is suspended by a wire from the top of the head. While in this position you can read out loud and try the following exercises for 10 to 20 minutes a day:
- Regulate the volume of your voice by permanently going up and down in volume while reading out loud.
- Tap with your hands the rhythm of words and sentences you are saying, making it like a sing-along, to enhance rhythm and communication.
- Read a full sentence out loud and then try to repeat it without reading it again to improve verbal memory.
- Repeat this exercise along with moderate intensity background music. This will enable you to work even more on selective attention and will favor your ability to extract speech from noisy backgrounds.
- Read out loud for a few minutes while standing on a balance board. This is a very good exercise not only to strengthen balance, but also to improve your ability to stay focused on what you are doing.
There is now a technology available that retrains the entire auditory system, keeping it sharp and preserving the critical functions described above. Forbrain® is award-winning technology that actually trains the brain and auditory circuits and has been shown to improve sensory processing, attention, memory, reading, speech and language skills. Using Forbrain® is fun and involves speaking or singing into the headphone while sitting straight — yes, posture is important. There are many engaging suggestions for using the device, from reading poetry to simulating dialog, to pacing the rhythm of speech to memorization, all of which enhance processing and language skills. Bone conduction allows you to hear your own voice very clearly, increasing confidence, speaking, listening and communication.
I recommend that you practice all the exercises mentioned above along with Forbrain® in order to magnify its potential effects.
About the Author: Jean-Pierre Granier is a French Author and Cognitive Psychologist, implicated in many scientific research studies on the interaction between the auditory system and the brain. He is also a certified trainer of the Tomatis® Method, a listening program system applied in 2000 therapeutic centers dedicated to helping children and adults with sensory issues and learning difficulties. Jean-Pierre is a scientific board member of SOUND FOR LIFE LTD, the company that designed Forbrain®. He is implicated in many studies dedicated to measuring the impact of this technology on the brain’s activity.