You will never forget getting your first car. How amazing was that sense of independence? You could go anywhere, anytime, with anyone you wanted. Many people with loss of hearing have this same type of experience when they get their first hearing aids.
How could investing in your first set of hearing aids be like getting your first car? While there are well known advantages to hearing better, there are some not-so-obvious ones that help you keep your independent lifestyle. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is greatly impacted by loss of hearing.
The following example illustrates exactly how your brain responds to changes: You’re on the way to work, taking the same way you always take. You soon find that there is an accident blocking your way. How would you react? Would you just quit and go back home? Unless you’re searching for a reason to not go to work, probably not. More than likely, you’ll find a different route. If that route happened to be even quicker, or if the primary route stayed closed for some time, the new route would become the new everyday routine.
In your brain, when normal functions are blocked the same thing happens. The name neuroplasticity defines when the brain reroutes its processing along different pathways.
Mastering new skills like 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 adjust to correspond to the new pathways and once-challenging tasks become automatic. Neuroplasticity can be equally as good at making you forget things you already know as it is at helping you learn new skills.
How Does Neuroplasticity Relate to Hearing Loss?
A perfect example of how neuroplasticity can have a negative impact is hearing loss. As explained in The Hearing Review, scientists from the University of Colorado found that even in the early stages of loss of hearing, if your brain quits working on processing sounds, it will be re-purposed for something else. And it may not be ideal for them to alter in that way. This reorganization of your brain function clarifies the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decay.
The areas of your brain that are responsible for hearing will be re-purposed for different functions such as vision and touch. This lessens the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it weakens our capacity to understand speech.
So, if you find yourself asking “what was that?” regularly, you already have hearing loss. And even more significant is the reality that your brain may already be starting to restructure.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
This ability of your brain has a positive and a downside. Neuroplasticity will probably make your hearing loss worse, but it also elevates the overall performance of hearing aids. Because your brain has the ability to regenerate tissue and to reroute neural pathways, you can maximize the advanced technology as part of your ear. Hearing aids encourage mental growth by stimulating the parts of the brain associated with hearing loss.
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 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: 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 receives and the need at hand.”
Preserving a Young Brain
To put it briefly, the brain is powerful and can adapt itself drastically regardless of your age or stage in life. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can speed up mental deterioration and that this decline can be decreased or even prevented by using 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, by pushing yourself with new activities, being socially active, and maybe even practicing mindfulness you can help improve your brain’s functionality no matter what your age is.
To ensure your quality of life, hearing aids are a must have. People who have hearing loss may 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 keep experiencing stimulation and processing the sounds you hear so it will remain as young as you feel!