Woman with hearing loss happy to have her freedom and independence while riding in a convertible.

It’s impossible to forget getting your first car. Nothing can be compared to that sense of independence. It was your decision when and where you went and with who you went with. Many people who have loss of hearing have this exact same experience when they get their first pair of hearing aids.

Why would getting your first pair of hearing aids be like getting your first car? Although there are obvious advantages to hearing better, there are some not-so-obvious ones which will help you maintain your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is significantly affected by loss of hearing.

Neuroplasticity

To illustrate how efficiently your brain can react to change, consider this: Following the exact same route as you always have, you set off for work. You soon discover that there is an accident stopping you from going through. What is your reaction to this blockage? Is quitting and going back home an option? Unless you’re searching for a reason to not go to work, most likely not. More than likely, you’ll take a different route. If that route happened to be even more efficient, or if your regular route stayed closed for some time, the new route would become your new routine.

In your brain, when normal functions are not working the very same thing occurs. The brain reroutes its processing down alternative paths, and this re-routing process is defined as neuroplasticity.

Mastering new abilities such as drawing or painting, or learning a new language are carried out by neuroplasticity. It also helps you build healthy habits. Slowly, the physical changes inside the brain adapt to correspond to the new pathways and tasks that were once challenging become automatic. Neuroplasticity can be equally as good at making you forget things you already know as it is at helping you learn new skills.

Hearing Loss And Neuroplasticity

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 stop processing sound according to a study conducted by the University of Colorado. And it probably isn’t ideal for them to change in that way. The association between hearing loss and cognitive decrease can be explained by this.

The parts of your brain that are responsible for hearing will be re-purposed for different functions such as vision and touch. This reduces the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it weakens our capability of understanding speech.

So, if you are continuously asking people to repeat themselves, loss of hearing has already begun. What’s more, it might be a more significant problem than injury to your inner ear, it’s possible that the untreated loss of hearing has caused your brain structure to alter.

How Hearing Aids Can Help You

As with most things, you get both a negative and positive angle to this amazing ability. Neuroplasticity will probably make your loss of hearing worse, but it also improves the overall performance of hearing aids. You can really take advantage of current hearing aid technology because of the brain’s amazing ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural pathways. As the hearing aids activate the parts of the brain that handle hearing loss, they stimulate mental growth and development.

The American Geriatrics Society published a long term study, in fact. It found that having a set of hearing aids lessened 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 over 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 displayed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline 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 gets and the need at hand.”

Preserving a Youthful Brain

It doesn’t matter what your age is, the adaptability of the brain means that it can modify itself at any point in time. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can hasten mental decline and that simply using hearing aids can stop or at least reduce this decline.

Don’t discount your hearing aids as cheap over-the-counter sound amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, by pushing yourself to engage in new activities, being socially active, and maybe even practicing mindfulness you can increase your brain’s functionality regardless of your age is.

Hearing aids are an important part of ensuring your quality of life. People who have loss of hearing may become withdrawn or isolated. If you want to stay active and independent, get a pair of 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.

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