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

Remember when you got your very first car? The feeling of freedom was unmatched. It was your choice when and where you went and with who you hung out with. For many people, getting their first hearing aids is a similar experience.

How could investing in your first pair of hearing aids be like getting your first car? Although there are well known benefits to being able to hear better, there are some not-so-obvious ones which can help you maintain your independence. Come to find out, your hearing has a significant effect on your brain’s functionality.

Neuroplasticity

To illustrate how well your brain will react to change, think about this: You’re on your way to work, taking the same way you always do. As you go to make the first left you find that there is a road-block. What would be your response to this blockage? Do you just give up and go back home? Most likely not unless of course you’re looking for a reason to avoid the office. More than likely, you’ll use a different route. If that route was even more efficient, or if your regular route remained restricted, the new route would come to be the new routine.

The exact same thing happens inside of your brain when a “normal” function is stopped or else not working. The term neuroplasticity defines the brain’s process of rerouting along alternative pathways.

Mastering new skills such as drawing or painting, or learning a new language are accomplished by neuroplasticity. It also helps you build healthy habits. Gradually, the physical changes inside the brain adjust to correspond to the new pathways and once-challenging tasks become automatic. While neuroplasticity can be helpful for learning new things, it can also be just 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, The pathways inside of your brain will quickly begin to get re-purposed if they quit processing sound according to a study done by the University of Colorado. And it probably isn’t ideal for them to change in that way. The link between hearing loss and cognitive decay can be explained by this.

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

So, if you find yourself saying “what was that?” frequently, you already have loss of hearing. In addition, it might be a more significant problem than injury to your inner ear, it’s possible that the untreated loss of hearing has induced your brain structure to alter.

How Hearing Aids Can Help You

As with anything, there is both a negative and positive side to this astonishing ability. Neuroplasticity may make your loss of hearing worse, but it also elevates the overall performance of hearing aids. Because your brain has the talent of regenerating tissue and to reroute neural pathways, you can get the most from the technology at your ear. Because the hearing aids stimulate the parts of the brain that regulate loss of hearing, they stimulate mental growth and development.

As a matter of fact, a long-term study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It found that wearing 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. What the scientists 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 compared to those with normal hearing.

The best part of this study is that we can validate what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will coordinate functions according to the current need and the amount of stimulation it is given. To put it another way, you need to, “use it or lose it.”

Maintaining a Youthful Brain

In short, the brain is versatile and can adapt itself substantially no matter what your age or stage in life. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can accelerate mental decline and that simply using hearing aids can stop or at least reduce this decline.

Hearing aids are high-tech hearing enhancement technology, not just over-the-counter amplification devices. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, by challenging yourself with new activities, being socially active, and maybe even practicing mindfulness you can increase your brain’s functionality no matter what your age is.

To guarantee your quality of life, hearing aids are a must have. Those who have loss of hearing may become withdrawn or isolated. If you would like to remain active and independent, get a pair of hearing aids. After all, you want your brain to keep experiencing stimulation and processing the sounds you hear so it will stay as young as you feel!

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