It’s impossible to forget getting your first car. The sense of freedom was unmatched. At any time you could reach out to some friends and go wherever you wanted. For many people, getting their first hearing aids is a similar experience.
Why would investing in your first pair of hearing aids be similar to getting your first car? While there are well known benefits to hearing better, there are some not-so-obvious ones which help you maintain your independence. As it turns out, your hearing has a profound effect on your brain’s functionality.
The following example illustrates how your brain responds to changes: Following the identical route as you always have, you set off for work. Now, suppose you go to make a corner only to discover that the road is blocked. How would you respond? Is giving up and going back home a good decision? Unless of course you’re looking for a reason not to go to work, most likely not. More than likely, you’ll take an alternate route. If that new route happened to be 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 stopped, your brain does the exact same thing. The brain reroutes its processing down alternative pathways, and this re-routing process is called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity can assist you in learning a new language, or in learning new skills like drawing or painting or developing healthy habits. Tasks that were at one time challenging become automatic as physical changes inside the brain gradually adjust to match the new pathways. Although neuroplasticity can be helpful for learning new skills, it’s also equally as good at making you forget what you already know.
How Does Neuroplasticity Relate to Hearing Loss?
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 at the University of Colorado found that even in the early stages of hearing loss, when your brain quits working to process sounds, it will be re-purposed for something else. This is something you might not want it to be working on. This reordering of your brain function explains the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decrease.
The areas of your brain that are responsible for hearing will be re-purposed for different functions such as vision and touch. This decreases the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it impairs our capability of understanding speech.
So, if you are constantly asking people to repeat themselves, loss of hearing has already begun. Additionally, it might be a more substantial problem than damage to your inner ear, it’s probable that the untreated hearing loss has caused your brain structure to alter.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
This ability of your brain has an upside and a negative. Neuroplasticity elevates the performance of your hearing aids even though it may possibly cause your hearing loss to get worse. You can really take advantage of advanced hearing aid technology thanks to the brain’s amazing ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural pathways. Because the hearing aids activate the parts of the brain that regulate loss of hearing, they stimulate 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 having 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 age 65 and older through a 25 year period. 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 showed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline as compared to those with normal hearing.
The best part of this study is that we can validate what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will coordinate functions according to the current need and the amount of stimulation it receives. To put it another way, you need to, “use it or lose it.”
Maintaining a Young Brain
The brain is versatile and can adapt itself at any time regardless of your age. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can accelerate mental decline and that simple hearing aids can stop or at least minimize this decline.
Don’t disregard your hearing aids as simple over-the-counter sound amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can increase your brain function regardless of any health conditions by forcing yourself to accomplish challenging new activities, being socially active, and practicing mindfulness amongst other strategies.
To ensure your quality of life, hearing aids are a must. People who have loss of hearing may become withdrawn or isolated. If you want to remain active and independent, invest in a pair of hearing aids. Keep in mind that if you want your brain to stay as young as you feel it needs to continue processing sound and receiving stimulation.