Remember when you got your first car? Nothing can be compared to that sense of freedom. It was your choice when and where you went and with who you went with. Many people who have hearing loss have this same type of experience when they get their first hearing aids.
How could investing in your first set of hearing aids be similar to getting your first car? There are some subtle reasons why using hearing aids can help you keep your independence. As it turns out, your hearing has a powerful effect on your brain’s functionality.
To demonstrate how well your brain will react to change, think about this: Following the same route as you always have, you set off for work. As you go to make the first right you find that there is a road-block. How would you respond? Is quitting and going home a good decision? Unless you’re searching for an excuse to not go to work, probably not. You would probably immediately find a different route. If that route was even more efficient, or if the primary route stayed closed for some time, the new route would come to be your new everyday routine.
The same thing happens inside your brain when a “normal” function is stopped or otherwise not working. The brain sends its processing down alternative pathways, and this re-routing process is defined as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity can help you master new languages, or in learning new abilities like martial arts or developing healthy habits. Gradually, the physical changes to the brain adapt to match the new paths and tasks that were once challenging become automatic. While neuroplasticity is usually beneficial for learning new things, it’s also equally as good at causing you to you forget what you already know.
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, The pathways inside your brain will quickly start to get re-purposed if they stop processing sound according to a report done by the University of Colorado. And it may not be ideal for them to alter in that way. This reorganization of your brain function clarifies the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
When you have loss of hearing, the parts of your brain responsible for functions, such as vision or touch, can solicit the less-utilized pathways of the brain responsible for hearing. This reduces the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it impairs our capacity to understand speech.
So, if you find yourself asking “what was that?” frequently, you already have loss of hearing. And even more significant is the fact that your brain may already be starting to restructure.
How Hearing Aids Can Help You
As with anything, you get both a negative and positive angle to this amazing ability. Neuroplasticity enhances the performance of your hearing aids even though it might make your hearing loss worse. You can really take advantage of advanced hearing aid technology because of the brain’s ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural pathways. Because the hearing aids activate the parts of the brain that regulate loss of hearing, they encourage mental growth and development.
The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. It found that wearing a set of hearing aids reduced 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, observed over three thousand adults age 65 and older through a 25 year period. What the researchers found was that the speed of cognitive decline was higher in those with hearing loss compared to those with healthy hearing. However, participants that used hearing aids to correct their hearing loss displayed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline as compared to those with normal hearing.
We already knew quite a bit about neuroplasticity and this research verifies that knowledge: the brain will organize functions according to your need and the amount of stimulation it is given. To put it another way, you need to, “use it or lose it.”
Retaining a Youthful Brain
It doesn’t make a difference what your age is, the adaptability of the brain means that it can modify itself at any point in time. It’s also important to note that hearing loss can accelerate mental deterioration and that this decline can be reduced or even averted by wearing hearing aids.
Don’t dismiss 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 regardless of any health issues by forcing yourself to accomplish challenging new activities, being active socially, and practicing mindfulness amongst other strategies.
To ensure your quality of life, hearing aids are a must have. Becoming isolated and withdrawn is a common problem for those with hearing loss. You can make sure that you remain active and independent by getting hearing aids. 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.