Do you recall when you got your first car? How great was that feeling of freedom? You could go where you wanted, when you wanted, with anyone you wanted. For many, getting their first hearing aids is a lot like that feeling.
How could getting your first set of hearing aids be similar to getting your first car? While there are well known benefits to being able to hear better, there are some not-so-obvious ones that help you keep your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is significantly impacted by loss of hearing.
The following example illustrates how your brain responds to changes: Following the same exact route as you always do, you set off for work. You soon find that there is a car accident stopping you from going through. What is your response to this problem? Is quitting and going home an option? Unless of course you’re searching for a reason not to go to work, probably not. You would most likely immediately seek a different route. If that new route happened to be even quicker, or if the primary route stayed closed for some time, the new route would come to be your new everyday routine.
The same process occurs in your brain when a “normal” function is stopped or otherwise not working. The name neuroplasticity defines when the brain reroutes it’s processing along different pathways.
Learning new skills such as playing an instrument, or learning a brand new language are accomplished by neuroplasticity. It also helps you build healthy habits. Slowly, the physical changes in the brain adapt to match the new paths and once-challenging tasks become automatic. Neuroplasticity can be just as good at causing you to forget about what you already know as it can be at helping you learn new skills.
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, scientists from the University of Colorado found 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 may not want it to be working on. This reordering of your brain function explains the link between hearing loss and cognitive decay.
If you have loss of hearing, the areas of your brain in charge of functions, such as vision or touch, can take over the under-utilized areas of the brain responsible for hearing. This lessens the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it weakens our capacity to understand speech.
So, if you are repeatedly asking people to repeat themselves, loss of hearing has already begun. And even more important is the fact that your brain might already be starting to restructure.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
This talent of your brain has a positive and a downside. Neuroplasticity will probably make your hearing loss worse, but it also improves the overall performance of hearing aids. You can really take advantage of current hearing aid technology because of your brain’s ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural paths. As the hearing aids activate the parts of the brain that regulate hearing loss, they stimulate mental growth and development.
The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. It found that wearing a set of hearing aids reduced 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, observed over three thousand adults age 65 and older over a 25 year period. 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 displayed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline as compared to those with normal hearing.
The best part of this research is that we can validate what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will organize functions according to your need and the amount of stimulation it receives. To put it another way, you need to, “use it or lose it.”
Retaining a Youthful Brain
The brain is powerful and can change itself at any time regardless of what your age is. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can accelerate mental deterioration and that this decline can be reduced or even averted by wearing hearing aids.
Don’t dismiss your hearing aids as simple over-the-counter sound amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, by challenging yourself with new activities, being socially active, and perhaps practicing mindfulness you can increase your brain’s functionality no matter what your age is.
Hearing aids are a vital part of ensuring your quality of life. Becoming isolated and withdrawn is common for those with hearing loss. You can be sure to stay active and independent by investing in a pair of hearing aids. After all, you want your brain to continue experiencing stimulation and processing the sounds that you hear so it will remain as young as you feel!