Do you recall getting your first car? The sense of independence was unprecedented. It was your decision when and where you went and with who you went with. For many, getting their first hearing aids is a lot like that feeling.
How can getting your first pair of hearing aids be compared to getting your first car? Even though there are obvious benefits to hearing better, there are some less obvious ones which will help you keep your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is profoundly impacted by hearing loss.
The following example illustrates exactly how your brain responds to changes: Following the identical route as you always do, you set off for work. Now, what if you go to make a turn only to discover the road is blocked. How would you respond? Would you give up and go home? Unless you’re looking for a reason not to go to work, most likely not. You would most likely immediately seek a different way to go. If that route was even quicker, or if your regular route stayed closed for some time, the new route would come to be the new routine.
The same thing takes place in your brain when a “normal” function is blocked or otherwise not functioning. The name neuroplasticity defines the brain’s process of rerouting along different pathways.
Learning new skills such as juggling, or learning a brand new language are carried out by neuroplasticity. It also assists in building healthy habits. Tasks that were at one time challenging become automatic as physical changes to the brain gradually adapt to match the new pathways. Although neuroplasticity can be helpful for learning new things, it’s also equally as good at causing you to you forget what you already know.
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 quickly begin to be re-purposed if they stop processing sound according to a study conducted by the University of Colorado. And it may not be ideal for them to alter in that way. This reorganization of your brain function explains the link between hearing loss and cognitive decay.
The areas of your brain that are responsible for hearing will get re-purposed for other functions like vision and touch. The available resources inside your brain which are used to process sound are decreased and so is your capacity to understand speech.
So, if you find yourself asking “what was that?” frequently, you already have loss of hearing. And even more important is the fact that your brain may already be starting to restructure.
Can Hearing Aids Help You
As with anything, you get both a negative and positive side to this astonishing ability. Neuroplasticity elevates the performance of your hearing aids even though it might cause your hearing loss to get worse. You can really take advantage of current hearing aid technology because of the brain’s amazing ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural pathways. Since the hearing aids stimulate the parts of the brain that handle loss of hearing, they encourage mental growth and development.
As a matter of fact, a long-term study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It found that wearing a set of hearing aids diminished 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, 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.
We already knew a lot about neuroplasticity and this research confirms that understanding: 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.”
Retaining a Young Brain
It doesn’t make a difference how old you are, the versatility of the brain means that it can modify itself at any time. It’s also important to note that hearing loss can speed up mental deterioration and that this decline can be reduced or even prevented by using hearing aids.
Don’t disregard your hearing aids as simple over-the-counter sound amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can enhance your brain function despite any health issues by forcing yourself to accomplish challenging new tasks, being active socially, and practicing mindfulness among other strategies.
Hearing aids are an important part of ensuring your quality of life. Those who have loss of hearing may become withdrawn or isolated. You can make sure that you remain active and independent by investing in a pair of hearing aids. 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!