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

You will never forget getting your first car. The sense of freedom was unmatched. You could go where you wanted, anytime, with who you wanted. For many people, getting their first hearing aids is a lot like that feeling.

Why would getting your first set of hearing aids be similar to getting your first car? Even though there are well known benefits to hearing better, there are some less obvious benefits which can help you maintain your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is profoundly impacted by loss of hearing.

Neuroplasticity

Your brain’s ability to respond to changes can be illustrated as follows: You’re on your way to work, taking the same route you always do. Now, what if you go to take a turn only to discover that the road is closed. What would be your response to this blockage? Would you just give up and go back home? Probably not unless of course you’re trying to find an excuse to avoid the office. More likely, you’ll use a different route. As long as your regular route was closed this new route would become your new routine. If the new route ended up being even more efficient, you would substitute the old one with it.

The exact same thing happens in your brain when a “normal” function is stopped or else not working. The term neuroplasticity defines when the brain reroutes it’s processing along alternative pathways.

Neuroplasticity can help you master new languages, or in learning new skills like playing an instrument or developing healthy habits. Slowly, the physical changes to the brain adapt to correspond to the new paths and tasks that were once challenging become automatic. Neuroplasticity can be equally as good at making you forget about what you already know as it is at assisting you in learning new things.

Neuroplasticity And Loss of Hearing

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 quit processing sound according to a report conducted by the University of Colorado. And it probably isn’t ideal for them to change in that way. This reorganization of your brain function clarifies the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decay.

The areas of your brain that are responsible for hearing will get re-purposed for different functions like vision and touch. This diminishes the brain’s available resources for processing sound, and it impairs our capability of understanding speech.

So, if you find yourself asking “what was that?” regularly, you already have hearing loss. And even more important is the fact that your brain might already be starting to restructure.

Can Hearing Aids Help You

As with anything, there is both a negative and positive side to this amazing ability. Neuroplasticity enhances the performance of your hearing aids even though it may possibly make your hearing loss worse. You can really take advantage of current hearing aid technology thanks to your brain’s amazing ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural pathways. Hearing aids encourage mental growth by stimulating the parts of your brain associated with loss of hearing.

As a matter of fact, a long-term study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Cognitive decline was lessened in people who wear 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 age 65 and older through 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 as compared to those with normal hearing.

The best part of this research is that we can validate 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 receives and the need at hand.”

Preserving a Young Brain

In short, the brain is versatile and can adapt itself substantially regardless of your age or stage in life. It’s also important to note that hearing loss can hasten mental decline and that this decline can be decreased or even averted by wearing hearing aids.

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

To ensure your quality of life, hearing aids are a must. Becoming isolated and withdrawn is common for people with hearing loss. If you want to stay active and independent, invest in a pair of hearing aids. Keep in mind that if you want your brain to stay as young as you feel it needs to continue processing sound and receiving stimulation.

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