Do you recall getting your first car? The feeling of independence was unmatched. It was your decision when and where you went and with who you went with. Many people with loss of hearing have this same type of experience when they get their first pair of hearing aids.
Why would getting your first hearing aids compare to getting your first car? There are some subtle reasons why having hearing aids can help you keep your independence. As it turns out, your hearing has a powerful impact on your brain’s functionality.
The following example illustrates how your brain responds to changes: You’re on your way to your job, taking the same route you always take. Now, what if you go to make a turn only to discover the road is blocked. How would you react? Do you just quit and go back home? Unless you’re searching for an excuse to not go to work, most likely not. More than likely, you’ll take an alternate route. As long as your regular route was closed this new route would become your new routine. If the new route turned out to be more efficient, you would substitute the old one with it.
When a normal brain function is stopped, your brain does the same thing. The brain sends its processing along with alternative paths, and this re-routing process is defined as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity can help you master a new language, or in learning new abilities such as playing an instrument or developing healthy habits. Little by little, the physical changes to the brain adjust to correspond to the new paths and once-challenging tasks become automatic. Although neuroplasticity is usually beneficial for learning new things, it’s also just as good at causing you to you forget what you already know.
Hearing Loss And Neuroplasticity
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 hearing loss, if your brain stops working to process sounds, it will be re-purposed for other tasks. And it may not be ideal for them to change in that way. This reordering of your brain function clarifies the relationship between loss of hearing and cognitive decay.
The areas of your brain that are responsible for hearing will be re-purposed for different functions like vision and touch. The available resources in your brain which are used to process sound are diminished and so is your ability to understand speech.
So, if you are constantly 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.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
As with anything, you get both a negative and positive angle to this astonishing ability. Neuroplasticity enhances the performance of your hearing aids even though it might cause your hearing loss to get worse. Because your brain has the talent of regenerating tissue and to reroute neural paths, you can maximize the advanced technology in your ear. Since the hearing aids stimulate the parts of the brain that handle loss of hearing, they stimulate mental growth and development.
The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. It found that having a set of hearing aids lessened 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, participants that used hearing aids to correct their hearing loss displayed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline compared to those with normal hearing.
We already knew a lot about neuroplasticity and this study confirms that knowledge: 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
The brain is powerful and can change itself at any time regardless of your age. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can hasten mental deterioration and that this decline can be decreased or even averted by wearing hearing aids.
Don’t discount your hearing aids as cheap over-the-counter sound amplification devices. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can increase your brain function despite any health conditions by forcing yourself to complete challenging new activities, being active socially, and practicing mindfulness amongst other techniques.
To guarantee your quality of life, hearing aids are a must. People who have hearing loss often become withdrawn or isolated. You can make sure that you stay active and independent by getting a pair of hearing aids. After all, you want your brain to continue receiving stimulation and processing the sounds that you hear so it will remain as young as you feel!