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

Remember when you got your very first car? Nothing can compare to that feeling of independence. It was your decision when and where you went and with who you hung out with. Many people with hearing loss have this same type of experience when they get their first pair of hearing aids.

How could investing in your first pair of hearing aids be similar to getting your first car? There are some less obvious reasons why using hearing aids can help you make sure you don’t lose your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is significantly impacted by hearing loss.

Neuroplasticity

To reveal how well your brain can respond to change, think about this: Following the exact same way as you always have, you set off for work. As you go to make that first right you discover that there is a road-block. What would be your response to this problem? Do you give up and go back home? Unless of course you’re searching for a reason to not go to work, most likely not. More likely, you’ll use an alternate route. For as long as your primary route was closed this new route would become your new everyday routine. If this new route turned out to be more efficient, you would replace the old one with it.

When a normal brain function is stopped, your brain does the exact same thing. The brain sends its processing down new pathways, and this re-routing process is called neuroplasticity.

Mastering new abilities such as playing an instrument, or learning a new language are accomplished by neuroplasticity. It also assists in building healthy habits. Gradually, the physical changes to the brain adjust to match the new pathways and once-challenging tasks become automatic. 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, researchers from the University of Colorado discovered that even in the early phases of loss of hearing, if your brain quits working on processing sounds, it will be re-purposed for other tasks. And it may not be ideal for them to alter in that way. This reorganization of your brain function clarifies the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decrease.

When you have hearing loss, the parts of your brain responsible for functions, such as vision or touch, can take over the less-utilized pathways of the brain responsible for hearing. The available resources inside your brain used to process sound are lessened and so is your ability to understand speech.

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

How Hearing Aids Can Help You

This ability of the brain has a positive and a negative. Neuroplasticity may make your loss of hearing worse, but it also improves the performance of hearing aids. Thanks to your brain’s ability to regenerate tissue and to reroute neural pathways, you can maximize the advanced technology at your ear. Since the hearing aids stimulate the parts of the brain that regulate hearing loss, they encourage mental growth and development.

In 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 over the age of 65. What the scientists discovered 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 showed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline as compared to those with normal hearing.

We already understood quite a bit about neuroplasticity and this study confirms that understanding: the brain will manage functions according to your need and the amount of stimulus it is given. In other words, you need to, “use it or lose it.”

Maintaining a Youthful Brain

To put it briefly, the brain is powerful and can change itself significantly no matter what your age or stage in life. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can speed up mental decline and that this decline can be reduced or even prevented by using hearing aids.

Don’t dismiss your hearing aids as cheap over-the-counter sound amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can improve your brain function regardless of any health issues by forcing yourself to complete challenging new activities, being socially active, and practicing mindfulness among other strategies.

Hearing aids are an important part of guaranteeing your quality of life. Those who have loss of hearing may become withdrawn or isolated. You can be sure to remain active and independent by getting hearing aids. After all, you want your brain to keep experiencing stimulation and processing the sounds that you hear so it will stay as young as you feel!

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