Layman’s Guide To The Neurological Background Of Hearing

Layman’s Guide To The Neurological Background Of Hearing

Have you ever wondered what part of the brain controls hearing? Or many you’ve wondered what part of the brain interprets sound and how hearing loss ultimately affects the brain. Today, we’re going to cut right to the chance and explain everything you may not know about the hearing part of the brain.

What Part Of The Brain Controls Hearing?

The brain has three different parts: the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brainstem. When people talk about the left side of the brain or the right, they’re talking about the cerebrum. This part of the brain controls complex functions like:

  • ​Interpreting touch, vision, and sound
  • ​Speech
  • ​Reasoning
  • Emotions
  • Learning
  • Fine motor skills

​The cerebellum is right under the cerebrum and its function is to control muscle movement, maintain posture and your balance.

Cerebellum Location

The brainstem functions as a relay center between the two other parts and the spinal cord. The brainstem is responsible for functions that come naturally to living things. It controls things like:

  • ​Breathing
  • ​Heart rate
  • ​Body temperature
  • ​Sleep cycles
  • ​Digestion
  • Vomiting
  • Swallowing
  • ​Sneezing and coughing

​Inside the cerebrum, there are different areas called lobes: the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe and the occipital lobe. These lobes can be divided even further into areas that controls specific functions, although they do not work alone.

For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on Broca’s area located in the frontal lobe and the Wernicke’s area located in the temporal lobe.

What Is Broca’s Area?

Broca’s area is located in the left side of the frontal lobe. Should this area become damaged, a person may have trouble moving their tongue or facial muscles to create various sounds of speech.

Brocas Area Brain

The individual will still be able to read and understand spoken word, but they’ll have difficulty writing (they’ll find it difficult forming letters and words or writing within the lines) and speaking. This type of condition is called Broca’s Aphasia.

What Is Wernick’s Area?

Wernick’s area is located in the left side of the temporal lobe and any damage to this area is called Wernicke’s Aphasia. Those who have been diagnosed with this condition may speak long sentences without having a clear meaning. They’ll use extra words that have no purpose in sentences, or they’ll even make up their own words. These individuals will still be able to make the various sounds of speech, but they’ll have a hard time understanding what is being said. That means they won’t be able to correct their mistakes when speaking.

What Happens To The Brain When Someone Loses Their Hearing?

When a person loses their hearing, the problem isn’t just their ears – it’s the brain. This is especially evident in elderly patients because while their ears may be fine, they may have trouble hearing because those areas of the brain are getting older and can’t process things the same as it used to.

Hearing Loss Brain Scan

A study was conducted at the University of Colorado in the Speech Language and Hearing Science department that sheds some light on how the brain undergoes a ‘reorganization’ process called neuroplasticity. In this study, researchers asked the questions:

  • ​How does the brain adapt after hearing loss?
  • ​What are the implications as a result?

​Researchers discovered that when someone experiences hearing loss, the “malfunctioning” hearing part of the brain will be taken over by other areas of the brain that controls the other senses. The term for this is called “cross-modal cortical reorganization.”  All this really means is that the brain is rewiring itself, despite having negative effects on cognition.

The Effects Of Cognitive Decline

Those who suffer from hearing loss will need an adaptation system that will reduce the brain’s ability to process sound, therefore making it difficult for the person to understand speech. Even those who have mild hearing loss will have weaker hearing parts of the brain.

This results in the other areas of the brain that are needed for complex thinking will start to be used to make the weaker areas function. Those areas will take over for the hearing parts of the brain, but they won’t be able to perform their intended functions.

The Brain Of The Deaf Or The Hearing Impaired

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins reported that those who are deaf or suffer from hearing loss are more likely to have trouble walking, they’ll have balance problems, and are at a higher risk of dementia.

Dementia Hearing Impaired

In the research, hearing loss can contribute to a faster rate of brain atrophy. Not only will the brain start to lose some of its function, people may even isolate themselves because they cannot hear conversations as well.

Final Thoughts on the Hearing Parts of the Brain

The ability to hear is a function that we often take for granted until we start asking loved ones to repeat themselves. Unfortunately, hearing loss and cognitive decline isn’t something that only affects the elderly. Young people who experience subtle hearing loss will put demands on the brain that aren’t normally seen until much later in life.

It’s highly recommended that people of all ages should have regular hearing examinations to detect even subtle declines in hearing. With early detection, doctors could pick up on problems that can be corrected, thus possibly reducing dementia in their later years, but also improve their quality of life.

The American Speech, Language and Hearing Association recommends a hearing test at least once every ten years until the age of 50, then every three years after that.

 So, when was your last hearing test? If it’s been a while and you feel like you’re not hearing as well as you used to, it would be a great time to schedule a hearing test. Even if there aren’t any changes, at least you’ll have some peace of mind!

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