You will never forget getting your first car. How amazing was that sense of freedom? You could go anywhere, anytime, with whoever you wanted. Many people who suffer from hearing loss have this same type of experience when they invest in their first hearing aids.
Why would getting your first hearing aids compare to getting your first car? Even though there are well known advantages to being able to hear better, there are some less obvious ones that can help you keep your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is significantly affected by hearing loss.
To show how efficiently your brain will respond to change, think about this: Taking the same route as you always have, you leave for work. As you go to make the first left you discover that the road is blocked. What would be your response to this blockage? Is quitting and going back home an option? Probably not unless you’re trying to find an excuse to avoid going to work. You would probably quickly find a different way to go. If that route happened to be even more efficient, or if your regular route remained restricted, the new route would come to be the new routine.
Inside your brain, when normal functions are not working the same thing occurs. The term neuroplasticity defines when the brain reroutes it’s processing along alternative pathways.
Neuroplasticity can help you master new languages, or to learn new abilities like drawing or painting or forming healthy habits. Tasks that were once-challenging come to be automatic as physical changes inside the brain gradually adapt to match the new pathways. Although neuroplasticity is usually beneficial for learning new skills, it can also be equally as good at making 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, researchers at the University of Colorado found that even in the early phases of loss of hearing, when your brain quits working to process sounds, it will be re-purposed for something else. And it probably isn’t ideal for them to alter in that way. This reorganization of your brain function explains the link between hearing loss and cognitive decay.
When you have loss of hearing, the parts of your brain responsible for functions, like vision or touch, can take over the less-utilized areas of the brain responsible for hearing. The available resources in your brain which are used to process sound are diminished and so is your ability to comprehend speech.
So, if you find yourself saying “what was that?” regularly, you already have hearing loss. And even more important is the reality that your brain may already be starting to restructure.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
As with anything, you get both a negative and positive angle to this astonishing ability. Neuroplasticity elevates the overall performance of your hearing aids even though it may cause your hearing loss to get worse. Because your brain has the ability to regenerate tissue and to reroute neural paths, you can make the most of the technology at your ear. Hearing aids encourage mental growth by stimulating the parts of your brain linked with loss of hearing.
The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. It found that wearing a set of hearing aids decreased 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. 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 as compared to those with normal hearing.
The best part of this research is that we can validate what we already understand about neuroplasticity: if you don’t use it you will end up losing it because the brain arranges its functions according to the amount of stimulation it gets and the need at hand.”
Maintaining a Young 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 decline and that simply using hearing aids prevent or at least reduce this decline.
Don’t discount your hearing aids as simple over-the-counter sound amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, by pushing yourself to engage in new activities, being socially active, and maybe even practicing mindfulness you can increase your brain’s functionality no matter what your age.
To guarantee your quality of life, hearing aids are a must. People who have loss of hearing often become withdrawn or isolated. Simply by investing in a pair of hearing aids, you can ensure that you stay active and independent. 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!