Hearing loss, if left untreated, has the potential to adversely affect many different areas of your life. Studies have indicated that people with untreated hearing loss tend to have lower earning power than colleagues who treat hearing loss with hearing aids. Additionally, people with untreated hearing loss are at higher risk for accidents, falls, and developing dementia. While these scenarios are more serious implications of untreated hearing loss, there is another side.
We know that untreated hearing loss could affect our interpersonal relationships, due to difficulties with communication. Over time, people with untreated hearing loss withdraw and isolate themselves, so they do not have to struggle with communication. As such, people with hearing loss tend to be at risk for depression and anxiety. Researchers from Washington State University further explore this connection with a study on the link between your mood, dopamine levels, and hearing loss.
Christine Portfors, associate professor at the School of Biological Sciences and the head of the Hearing and Communication Lab at Washington State University -Vancouver, along with David Perkel, professor of biology and otolaryngology at the University of Washington, have designed a study to explore the connection between dopamine and hearing health.
Dopamine is naturally produced by our brains and is released by the hypothalamus as a hormone to regulate various systems in our bodies (sleep, behavior, cognition, and circulation, to name a few). Dopamine is an important chemical in ensuring that our bodies function smoothly, and is linked to our brain’s system of reward and motivation. Decreased amounts of dopamine in the body have been linked to diseases such as Parkinson’s and schizophrenia.
Have you ever been stuck in traffic in a bad mood, but then your favorite song comes on the car stereo? This is one instance of auditory stimulation that connects to dopamine. According to Portfors, “A song you love or a familiar voice can make you feel good. How do you relate the hearing part to the feeling good part? Because dopamine is related to the expectation of something rewarding happening, we think dopamine actually alters how your neurons respond to particular sounds or voices.”
In 2006, French researchers published results from a study that indicates “dopamine is essential in maintaining the health of auditory nerve neurons and the way they respond to sound stimulation.” Building upon this body of research, Portfors and Perkel plan to “explore how dopamine affects brain cells, synapses and neural circuits involved in auditory processing.” While the study has not yet concluded, they “suspect dopamine may alter the way neurons respond to particular sounds or voices.”
As social creatures, humans make sense of the world and create connections with others through communication. For most of us, our sense of hearing is one way to forge these connections. We stay in touch with our loved ones through phone calls, we listen to music when we’re sad and need a boost, or we listen to music when we’re happy and want to share it. In fact, music has been found to be an important part of mood regulation, according to researchers from McGill University in Canada. They monitored “the brains of eight 19-24 year olds as they listened to music they selected” and found that “dopamine levels increased six to nine percent.”
On the other hand, low dopamine levels have been connected to fatigue, mood swings, and lack of motivation. Thus, we can make a guess that our access to sounds that we recognize and love play an important role in improving our mood, in part by increasing the level of dopamine in our systems.
As with most things medical, regular exercise and a healthy diet will go a long way in increasing dopamine in our systems. Adding the following foods to your diet will help increase dopamine naturally: almonds, apples, avocados, bananas, beets, chocolate, coffee, fava beans, leafy green vegetables, green tea, lima beans, oatmeal, olive oil, peanuts, soy products, and watermelon. Food with natural probiotics, such as yogurt and kefir, can also help increase dopamine.
And if you’re experiencing difficulties with hearing and miss access to the sounds you know and love, taking a hearing test and being fitted for hearing aids are an important step to ensuring your happiness and well-being.
For more information on hearing loss and to schedule a consultation, contact us at Puget Sound Hearing Aids and Audiology