Remember getting your very first car? How awesome was that feeling of independence? It was your decision when and where you went and with who you went with. Many people who suffer from hearing loss have this exact same experience when they get their first hearing aids.
Why would getting your first pair of hearing aids be like getting your first car? There are some less obvious reasons why using hearing aids can help you keep your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is greatly affected by loss of hearing.
The following example demonstrates how your brain reacts to changes: Following the exact same route as you always have, you leave for work. As you go to make the first left you discover that there is a road-block. What is your response to this problem? Would you give up and go back home? Unless you’re looking for a reason to not go to work, probably not. Finding a different way to go is more than likely what you would choose to do. For as long as your primary route was closed this new route would become your new everyday routine. If the new route turned out to be even more efficient, you would replace the old one with it.
When a normal brain function is blocked, your brain does the exact same thing. The brain sends its processing down alternative pathways, and this re-routing process is defined as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity can help you master a new language, or in learning new skills such as juggling or forming healthy habits. Tasks that were at one time challenging become automatic as physical changes to the brain gradually adapt to match the new pathways. Even though neuroplasticity is usually beneficial for learning new things, it can also be equally as good at making you forget what you know.
Hearing Loss And Neuroplasticity
A perfect example of how neuroplasticity can have a negative impact is hearing loss. As explained in The Hearing Review, researchers at the University of Colorado found that even in the early phases of loss of hearing, when your brain quits working on processing sounds, it will be re-purposed for other tasks. This is something you might not want it to be doing. The association between hearing loss and cognitive decline can be explained by this.
If you have hearing loss, the parts of your brain in charge of functions, like vision or touch, can take over the less-utilized areas of the brain responsible for hearing. The available resources in your brain used to process sound are lessened and so is your capacity to understand speech.
So, if you are continuously asking people to repeat themselves, hearing loss has already begun. What’s more, it may be a more significant problem than injury to your inner ear, it’s probable that the untreated hearing loss has caused your brain structure to alter.
Can Hearing Aids Help
This ability of the brain has an upside and a downside. Neuroplasticity improves the performance of your hearing aids even though it may make your hearing loss worse. You can definitely make the most of current hearing aid technology thanks to your brain’s amazing ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural paths. As the hearing aids stimulate the parts of the brain that regulate hearing loss, they encourage mental growth and development.
In fact, a long-term study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Cognitive decline was lessened 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 age 65 and older through a 25 year period. What the scientists found was that the speed of cognitive decline was higher in those with hearing loss compared to those with healthy hearing. 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 best part of this research is that we can confirm what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will coordinate functions according to your need and the amount of stimulation it is given. To put it another way, you need to, “use it or lose it.”
Maintaining a Youthful Brain
The bottom line is, the brain is versatile and can adapt itself substantially regardless of your age or stage in life. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can hasten mental decline and that this decline can be decreased or even prevented by wearing hearing aids.
Hearing aids are high-tech hearing enhancement technology, not just over-the-counter amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can improve your brain function despite any health conditions by forcing yourself to perform challenging new activities, being socially active, and practicing mindfulness amongst other strategies.
Hearing aids are an important part of ensuring your quality of life. Those who have loss of hearing often become withdrawn or isolated. If you would like to remain 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 stay as young as you feel!