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McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

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

You will never forget getting your first car. How amazing was that feeling of freedom? It was your decision when and where you went and with who you went with. Many people with loss of hearing have this same type of experience when they invest in their first hearing aids.

How could investing in your first pair of hearing aids be similar to getting your first car? It’s not just the obvious reasons for having hearing aids, but also the less obvious factors that can help you maintain your independent lifestyle. Come to find out, your hearing has a powerful impact on your brain’s functionality.

Neuroplasticity

Your brain’s capacity to respond to changes can be illustrated with the following example: Following the exact same route as you always have, you leave for work. You soon discover that there is an accident blocking your way. What is your response to this blockage? Do you just quit and go home? Unless of course you’re searching for an excuse to not go to work, most likely not. You would most likely quickly seek an alternate way to go. If that new route happened to be even more efficient, or if the primary route stayed closed for some time, the new route would become the new routine.

The exact same thing occurs inside your brain when a “normal” function is blocked or else not functioning. Alternative pathways are routed in the brain due to a function called neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity can assist you in learning new languages, or in learning new skills such as playing an instrument or building healthy habits. Slowly, the physical changes in the brain adjust to correspond to the new paths and once-challenging tasks become automatic. Even though neuroplasticity is usually beneficial for learning new things, it’s also just as good at making you forget what you know.

Hearing Loss And Neuroplasticity

A perfect example of how neuroplasticity can have a negative impact is hearing loss. As explained in The Hearing Review, researchers at the University of Colorado found that even in the early phases of loss of hearing, when your brain quits working to process sounds, it will be re-purposed for something else. This is something you may not want it to be working on. The link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline can be explained by this.

The areas of your brain that are responsible for hearing will get re-purposed for different functions like vision and touch. The available resources in your brain which are used to process sound are diminished and so is your ability to comprehend speech.

So, if you are repeatedly asking people to repeat themselves, loss of hearing has already started. And even more significant is the reality that your brain may already be starting to restructure.

Can Hearing Aids Help

This ability of your brain has an upside and a negative. Neuroplasticity elevates the performance of your hearing aids even though it may make your hearing loss worse. Thanks to your brain’s talent of regenerating tissue and to reroute neural pathways, you can make the most of the advanced technology as part of your ear. Hearing aids encourage mental growth by stimulating the parts of the brain linked with hearing loss.

As a matter of fact, a long-term study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 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, 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, 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 best part of this study is that we can confirm what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will organize functions according to your need and the amount of stimulus it is given. To put it another way, you need to, “use it or lose it.”

Preserving a Young Brain

The brain is powerful and can adapt itself at any time regardless of how old you are. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can hasten mental deterioration and that simply using hearing aids prevent or reduce this decline.

Hearing aids are state-of-the-art hearing enhancement technology, not just over-the-counter amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can improve your brain function despite any health conditions by forcing yourself to accomplish challenging new tasks, being socially active, and practicing mindfulness amongst other strategies.

Hearing aids are a vital part of ensuring your quality of life. Becoming isolated and withdrawn is a common problem for people with hearing loss. You can make sure that you remain active and independent by investing in hearing aids. After all, you want your brain to continue receiving stimulation and processing the sounds that you hear so it will stay as young as you feel!