Do you remember when you got your first car? How awesome was that sense of independence? At any moment you could call some friends and drive wherever you wanted. Many people with loss of hearing have this same type of experience when they invest in their first hearing aids.
Why would getting your first pair of hearing aids be like getting your first car? It’s not only the well known reasons for using hearing aids, but also the less obvious benefits that can restore your independent lifestyle. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is significantly affected by loss of hearing.
The following example demonstrates how your brain responds to changes: You’re on the way to work, following the same way you always take. As you go to make that first right you find that there is a road-block. What would be your reaction to this problem? Is quitting and going back home an option? Probably not unless of course you’re trying to find a reason to avoid the office. Finding another route is more than likely what you would choose to do. If that new route happened to be even more efficient, or if your regular route stayed closed for some time, the new route would become your new routine.
The exact same thing occurs inside your brain when a “normal” function is stopped or else not functioning. The term neuroplasticity defines the brain’s process of rerouting along different pathways.
Perfecting new skills such as juggling, or learning a new language are accomplished by neuroplasticity. It also assists in building healthy habits. Tasks that were at one time challenging come to be automatic as physical changes to the brain slowly adjust to match the new pathways. While neuroplasticity is usually beneficial for learning new things, it can also be just as good at making you forget what you know.
How Does Neuroplasticity Relate to Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is the perfect example of how neuroplasticity has a negative impact on your day-to-day life. As explained in The Hearing Review, The pathways inside of your brain will immediately start to get re-purposed if they quit processing sound according to a report done by the University of Colorado. This is something you may not want it to be working on. This reorganization of your brain’s function clarifies the link between hearing loss and cognitive decrease.
When you have loss of hearing, the areas of your brain responsible for functions, including vision or touch, can solicit the less-utilized pathways of the brain responsible for hearing. This reduces the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it weakens our capability of understanding speech.
So, if you find yourself saying “what was that?” frequently, you already have loss of hearing. And even more significant is the fact that your brain might already be beginning to restructure.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
This ability of the brain has an upside and a downside. Neuroplasticity will probably make your loss of hearing worse, but it also enhances the performance of hearing aids. Because your brain has the ability to regenerate tissue and to reroute neural pathways, you can get the most from the advanced technology at your ear. As the hearing aids stimulate the parts of the brain that regulate hearing loss, they encourage mental growth and development.
The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. It found that wearing a set of hearing aids decreased cognitive decline in people with hearing loss. The study, titled Self-Reported Hearing Loss: Hearing Aids and Cognitive Decline in Elderly Adults: A 25-year Study, followed over three thousand adults over the age of 65. The study showed that people with hearing loss had a higher rate of cognitive decline. However, people that used hearing aids to correct their hearing loss showed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline compared to those with normal hearing.
The most useful part of this research is that we can verify what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will organize functions according to the current need and the amount of stimulus it receives. In other words, you need to, “use it or lose it.”
Retaining a Young Brain
The brain is powerful and can change itself at any time regardless of how old you are. It’s also important to note that hearing loss can hasten mental decline and that this decline can be reduced or even prevented by using hearing aids.
Hearing aids are sophisticated hearing enhancement technology, not just over-the-counter amplification devices. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can increase your brain function despite any health conditions by pushing yourself to complete challenging new tasks, being active socially, and practicing mindfulness amongst other techniques.
Hearing aids are an important part of ensuring your quality of life. Becoming isolated and withdrawn is a common problem for those with hearing loss. You can make sure that you stay active and independent by getting hearing aids. After all, you want your brain to keep experiencing stimulation and processing the sounds that you hear so it will stay as young as you feel!