It’s impossible to forget getting your first car. How amazing was that sense of independence? It was your choice when and where you went and with who you went with. Many people who suffer from loss of hearing have this same type of experience when they get their first pair of hearing aids.
Why would investing in your first set of hearing aids be like getting your first car? Although there are obvious benefits to hearing better, there are some not-so-obvious ones which can help you maintain your independent lifestyle. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is significantly impacted by hearing loss.
The following example demonstrates how your brain responds to changes: You’re on your way to work, following the same route you always do. As you go to make that first right you discover that there is a road-block. How would you respond? Is quitting and going back home an option? Most likely not unless you’re looking for an excuse to avoid the office. More than likely, you’ll use an alternate route. For as long as your primary route was closed this new route would turn into your new routine. If this new route turned out to be more efficient, you would replace the old one with it.
When a normal brain function is blocked, your brain does the same thing. The brain sends its processing along with new paths, and this re-routing process is called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity can assist you in learning a new language, or to learn new abilities such as playing an instrument or developing healthy habits. Slowly, the physical changes in the brain adapt to correspond to the new pathways and tasks that were once challenging become automatic. Even though neuroplasticity can be beneficial for learning new skills, it can also be just as good at causing you to you forget what you already know.
Neuroplasticity And Loss of Hearing
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, researchers at the University of Colorado discovered that even in the early stages of loss of hearing, when your brain stops working to process sounds, it will be re-purposed for other tasks. This is something you might not want it to be working on. The connection between hearing loss and cognitive decay can be explained by this.
When you have hearing loss, the parts of your brain responsible for functions, including vision or touch, can take over the less-utilized pathways of the brain responsible for hearing. This diminishes the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it weakens our capability of understanding speech.
So, if you are constantly asking people to repeat themselves, loss of hearing has already begun. What’s more, it may be a more substantial problem than damage to your inner ear, it’s possible that the untreated hearing loss has caused your brain structure to change.
Can Hearing Aids Help You
This talent of your brain has an upside and a downside. Neuroplasticity enhances the overall performance of your hearing aids even though it may make your hearing loss worse. You can definitely take advantage of current hearing aid technology because of the brain’s amazing ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural pathways. Because the hearing aids stimulate the parts of the brain that handle hearing loss, they stimulate mental growth and development.
The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. Cognitive decline was minimized in people with hearing aids, according to this study. 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, participants 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 study is that we can validate what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will organize functions according to the current need and the amount of stimulus it is given. In other words, you need to, “use it or lose it.”
Preserving a Youthful Brain
It doesn’t make a difference what your age is, the adaptability of the brain means that it can modify itself at any point in time. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can accelerate mental decline and that this decline can be decreased or even averted by using hearing aids.
Don’t discount your hearing aids as simple over-the-counter sound amplification devices. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, by pushing yourself with new activities, being active socially, and perhaps practicing mindfulness you can help improve your brain’s functionality regardless of your age.
Hearing aids are a vital part of ensuring your quality of life. Becoming isolated and withdrawn is common for those with hearing loss. If you want to stay active and independent, invest in a pair of hearing aids. After all, you want your brain to continue experiencing stimulation and processing the sounds you hear so it will remain as young as you feel!