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

Do you recall getting your first car? Nothing can be compared to that feeling of freedom. At any moment you could call a few friends and drive wherever you wanted. For many, getting their first hearing aids is a similar experience.

How can getting your first hearing aids compare to getting your first car? There are some less obvious reasons why having hearing aids can help you keep your independence. Come to find out, your hearing has a powerful effect on your brain’s functionality.

Neuroplasticity

Your brain’s ability to respond to changes can be illustrated with the following example: You’re on your way to work, following the same way you always do. As you go to make the first turn you find that there is a road-block. What would be your reaction to this blockage? Is quitting and going back home an option? Unless you’re looking for a reason to not go to work, most likely not. Finding a different route is more than likely what you would do. As long as your primary route was closed this new route would turn into your new routine. If the new route turned out to be more efficient, you would substitute the old one with it.

Inside your brain, when normal functions are blocked the very same thing happens. Alternative pathways are forged in the brain due to a function defined as neuroplasticity.

Learning new skills like drawing or painting, or learning a new language are achieved by neuroplasticity. It also assists in building healthy habits. Slowly, the physical changes inside the brain adapt to correspond to the new paths and once-challenging tasks become automatic. Although neuroplasticity is usually helpful for learning new things, it’s also just as good at making you forget what you 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, researchers from the University of Colorado discovered that even in the early stages of loss of hearing, when your brain quits working to process sounds, it will be re-purposed for other tasks. And it probably isn’t ideal for them to change in that way. This reorganization of your brain function explains the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decay.

When you have hearing loss, the parts of your brain responsible for functions, including vision or touch, can solicit the under-utilized pathways of the brain responsible for hearing. This decreases the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it weakens our capacity to understand speech.

So, if you are repeatedly asking people to speak up, hearing loss has already started. What’s more, it may be a more significant problem than injury to your inner ear, it’s probable that the untreated loss of hearing has caused your brain structure to change.

Can Hearing Aids Help

This talent of the brain has a positive and a downside. Neuroplasticity improves the performance of your hearing aids even though it might make your hearing loss worse. You can really take advantage of current hearing aid technology because of your brain’s ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural pathways. Since the hearing aids stimulate 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 decreased 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 displayed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline as 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.”

Having 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 deterioration and that this decline can be reduced or even averted by using hearing aids.

Don’t dismiss your hearing aids as cheap over-the-counter sound amplification devices. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, by challenging yourself to engage in new activities, being active socially, and maybe even practicing mindfulness you can enhance your brain’s performance no matter what your age.

Hearing aids are a vital part of guaranteeing your quality of life. Those who have loss of hearing may become withdrawn or isolated. Only by investing in a pair of hearing aids, you can make sure that you stay active and independent. After all, you want your brain to continue experiencing stimulation and processing the sounds that you hear so it will remain as young as you feel!

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