Do you recall getting your first car? How awesome was that feeling of independence? At any moment you could call some friends and drive wherever you wanted. For many people, getting their first hearing aids is a similar experience.
Why would getting your first pair of hearing aids compare to getting your first car? It’s not only the obvious reasons for having hearing aids, but also the less obvious benefits that can restore your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is profoundly affected by hearing loss.
The following example demonstrates how your brain responds to changes: You’re on the way to your job, taking the same way you always do. Now, what if you go to make a turn only to find the road is closed. How would you react? Do you just give up and go back home? Probably not unless of course you’re looking for an excuse to avoid going to work. More than likely, you’ll take an alternate route. If that new route was even more efficient, or if your regular route stayed closed for some time, the new route would become the new everyday routine.
When a normal brain function is stopped, your brain does the exact same thing. New pathways are forged in the brain due to a function called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity can help you master a new language, or in learning new abilities like playing an instrument or forming healthy habits. Activities that were at one time challenging become automatic as physical modifications inside the brain gradually adjust to match the new pathways. Neuroplasticity can be equally as good at making you forget about things you already know as it can be at assisting you in learning new things.
Neuroplasticity And Loss of Hearing
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 phases of loss of hearing, if your brain stops working on processing sounds, it will be re-purposed for other tasks. And it probably isn’t ideal for them to change in that way. The link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline can be explained by this.
The areas of your brain which are responsible for hearing will be re-purposed for different functions like vision and touch. The available resources inside your brain which are used to process sound are diminished and so is your ability to comprehend speech.
So, if you find yourself asking “what was that?” frequently, you already have hearing loss. And even more important is the fact that your brain might already be beginning to restructure.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
As with anything, there is both a negative and positive angle to this astonishing ability. Neuroplasticity may possibly make your hearing loss worse, but it also improves the performance of hearing aids. Because your brain has the ability to regenerate tissue and to reroute neural paths, you can make the most of the technology as part of your ear. Hearing aids encourage mental growth by exciting the parts of the brain associated with loss of hearing.
The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. Cognitive decline was reduced 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, observed over three thousand adults age 65 and older over a 25 year period. 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 displayed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline compared to those with normal hearing.
We already knew quite a bit about neuroplasticity and this study confirms that understanding: if you don’t use it you will end up losing it because the brain organizes its functions according to the amount of stimulation it gets and the need at hand.”
Preserving a Young Brain
It doesn’t make a difference how old you are, the versatility of the brain means it can modify itself at any point in time. It’s also important to note that hearing loss can accelerate mental deterioration and that simply using hearing aids can stop or at least minimize this decline.
Hearing aids are not cheap over-the-counter amplification devices, they are sophisticated hearing technology. 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.
Hearing aids are an essential part of guaranteeing your quality of life. People who have loss of hearing may become withdrawn or isolated. If you would like to stay active and independent, get 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.