You will never forget getting your first car. The sense of freedom was unparalleled. At any time you could reach out to a few friends and drive wherever you wanted. For many people, getting their first hearing aids is a lot like that feeling.
Why would investing in your first pair of hearing aids be like getting your first car? While there are obvious advantages to being able to hear better, there are some not-so-obvious ones that will help you keep your independent lifestyle. Come to find out, your hearing has a profound impact on your brain’s functionality.
The following example illustrates exactly how your brain responds to changes: You’re on the way to your job, taking the same way you always take. You soon discover that there is an car accident blocking your way. What would be your reaction to this problem? Is giving up and going home a good decision? Unless you’re searching for an excuse not to go to work, probably not. You would probably immediately find a different way to go. If that route was even more efficient, or if the primary route stayed closed for some time, the new route would come to be the new routine.
When a normal brain function is blocked, your brain does the exact same thing. The name neuroplasticity defines the brain’s process of rerouting along different pathways.
Neuroplasticity can help you master a new language, or to learn new skills like playing an instrument or building healthy habits. Little by little, the physical changes inside the brain adjust to correspond to 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 assisting you in learning 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, The pathways inside your brain will immediately begin to get re-purposed if they quit processing sound according to a report done by the University of Colorado. This is something you might not want it to be working on. The connection between hearing loss and cognitive decay can be explained by this.
When you have hearing loss, the parts of your brain in charge of functions, like vision or touch, can take over the under-utilized pathways of the brain responsible for hearing. This diminishes the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it impairs our capacity to understand speech.
So, if you find yourself saying “what was that?” frequently, you already have loss of hearing. In addition, it could be a more substantial issue than injury to your inner ear, it’s possible that the neglected hearing loss has induced your brain structure to change.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
As with anything, you get both a negative and positive side to this awesome ability. Neuroplasticity may possibly make your hearing loss worse, but it also enhances the performance of hearing aids. You can definitely take advantage of advanced hearing aid technology because of your brain’s ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural pathways. Because the hearing aids stimulate the parts of the brain that handle loss of hearing, they encourage mental growth and development.
The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. Cognitive decline was decreased 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, observed over three thousand adults age 65 and older through a 25 year period. What the researchers discovered 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 most useful part of this study is that we can verify 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 receives and the need at hand.”
Retaining a Young Brain
To put it briefly, the brain is versatile and can adapt itself drastically regardless of your age or stage in life. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can accelerate mental decline and that simple hearing aids can stop or at least reduce this decline.
Don’t dismiss your hearing aids as simple over-the-counter sound amplification devices. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can improve your brain function despite any health conditions by forcing yourself to perform challenging new tasks, being socially active, and practicing mindfulness amongst other strategies.
Hearing aids are an essential part of ensuring your quality of life. Those 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. Don’t forget that if you want your brain to stay as young as you feel it needs to keep processing sound and receiving stimulation.