Do you remember getting your first car? The feeling of freedom was unparalleled. At any time you could call a few friends and go wherever you wanted. Many people who have loss of hearing have this exact same experience when they invest in their first pair of hearing aids.
How could investing in your first pair of hearing aids be like getting your first car? It’s not just the obvious reasons for using hearing aids, but also the less obvious ones that can help you maintain your independence. As it turns out, your hearing has a profound effect on your brain’s functionality.
The following example illustrates how your brain reacts to changes: You’re on your way to work, taking the same route you always take. As you go to make that first left you discover that the road is blocked. What is your reaction to this blockage? Is giving up and going home a good decision? Most likely not unless you’re looking for an excuse to avoid the office. More than likely, you’ll use a different route. If that new route was even more efficient, or if your regular route stayed closed for some time, the new route would become your new routine.
The same thing occurs inside of your brain when a “normal” function is stopped or otherwise not functioning. The name neuroplasticity defines the brain’s process of rerouting along alternative pathways.
Neuroplasticity can help you master new languages, or to learn new abilities such as drawing or painting or developing healthy habits. Gradually, the physical changes inside the brain adapt to match the new pathways and tasks that were once challenging become automatic. Neuroplasticity can be equally as good at causing you to forget about what you already know as it is at helping you learn new things.
Neuroplasticity And Loss of Hearing
A perfect example of how neuroplasticity can have a negative impact is hearing loss. As explained in The Hearing Review, researchers from the University of Colorado found that even in the early stages of loss of hearing, if your brain stops working on processing sounds, it will be re-purposed for other tasks. And it may not be ideal for them to alter in that way. This reordering of your brain function clarifies the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decrease.
The areas of your brain which are responsible for hearing will be re-purposed for different functions like vision and touch. The available resources in your brain used to process sound are lessened and so is your ability to comprehend speech.
So, if you are continuously asking people to repeat themselves, loss of hearing has already started. And even more significant is the fact that your brain might already be beginning to restructure.
Can Hearing Aids Help You
This ability of your brain has a positive and a downside. Neuroplasticity improves the performance of your hearing aids even though it may make your hearing loss worse. You can really take advantage of advanced hearing aid technology because of your brain’s amazing ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural paths. As the hearing aids activate 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 who wear 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 over a 25 year period. 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 as compared to those with normal hearing.
The most useful part of this study is that we can confirm what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will manage functions according to the current need and the amount of stimulation it receives. In other words, you need to, “use it or lose it.”
Maintaining a Youthful Brain
The bottom line is, the brain is powerful and can change itself drastically no matter what your age or stage in life. It’s also important to note that hearing loss can accelerate mental deterioration and that simple hearing aids can stop or at least minimize this decline.
Hearing aids are not simple over-the-counter amplification devices, they are sophisticated hearing enhancement technology. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can enhance your brain function despite any health issues by pushing yourself to perform challenging new tasks, being active socially, and practicing mindfulness among other techniques.
Hearing aids are a vital part of ensuring your quality of life. People who have loss of hearing often become withdrawn or isolated. Simply by investing in a pair of hearing aids, you can make sure that you remain active and independent. After all, you want your brain to keep receiving stimulation and processing the sounds you hear so it will stay as young as you feel!