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In a study published by the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA), researchers studied 1984 older individuals in an attempt to link age-related hearing loss to cognitive decline. (1) It is accepted that as we age hearing becomes more difficult, but until now, there was no known link between hearing and cognitive function.
After following these folks for 11 years, the folks with hearing loss had a 24 percent increase of significant cognitive decline – suggesting that if hearing could be supported during the aging process, this may have an impact on age-related cognitive health as well.
Dr. Frank Lin, the lead researcher in this study, suggested that when the hearing is impaired, there is a garbled signal sent to the brain. Neuro-imaging studies have shown that the brain is forced to work much harder to interpret these garbled signals. Dr. Lin suggests that this extra effort to hear is at the expense of other brain functions, such as memory and cognitive function.
They also found in this study that hearing loss is associated with faster rates of brain atrophy, which means that the brain can actually shrink faster with age-related hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss can also socially isolate elderly, as they are not hearing or able to engage on a growing number of conversations or social interactions.
Researchers are not sure whether delaying hearing loss would spare the cognitive function of the brain but, according to Ayurveda, there are many strategies employed to support healthy hearing.
Ayurvedic Ear Care
The classic Ayurvedic therapy for the ears is an integral part of a healthy daily routine. It is called Karna Purana – where medicated oil is dripped into the ears and the ears are then thoroughly massaged. (3)
The skin is a hotbed for beneficial microbes, and the orifices like the nose, armpits, groins and ears are areas of high microbial concentration. (4) We know little about the microbes that live on the surface of the skin, but suspect they play a key role in health and immunity, as do the microbes in the intestinal tract.
We also know there are small bones in the inner ear called ossicles, which vibrate when hit by sound waves. These bones stimulate nerve endings that transmit signals to the brain to be interpreted. From the Ayurvedic perspective, the ear skin and the ossicles can dry out and function can be compromised. This is part of a vata imbalance in Ayurveda. Vata is a governing principle in nature akin to air, which, when aggravated, can dry the body out. Oil is the antidote for dryness in the body.
Once again, the key here, from the Ayurvedic perspective, is to care for your “orifices” throughout your life – and not just when they go out of whack. Karna Purana, or ear oiling, is meant to be a daily practice.
Ear Oiling (Karna Purana)
Step 1: It’s best to use an herbalized oil that is significantly more moisturizing that a plain vegetables oil. I suggest LifeSpa’s Nasya Oil (found in the LifeSpa online store). It is easiest to do this in the shower, although that is not required. In the morning, using a dropper, fill the ear canal with warm nasya oil. You can do both ears at the same time.
Step 2: Close the ear flap and, using medium pressure, gently massage the ear canal by pressing on the ear flap in a circular motion. Continue this for one minute. If there is pain, stop, and have this checked by your medical doctor.
Step 3: Gently massage the cartilage of the ear (the whole ear) using the thumb and index finger, rubbing out any tender areas. Continue for one minute.
Step 4: Gently massage around the entire ear where the ear meets the skull. Gently massage out any tender or sore areas. Continue this for one minute.
Learn more about caring for the ears in my article on tinnitus, “10 Ayurvedic Tips for Tinnitus.”