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

Do you recall when you got your first car? The feeling of freedom was unparalleled. You could go where you wanted, when you wanted, with anyone you wanted. For many people, getting their first hearing aids is a similar experience.

How can getting your first pair of hearing aids compare to getting your first car? There are some less obvious reasons why having hearing aids can help you keep your independence. As it turns out, your hearing has a significant effect on your brain’s functionality.

Neuroplasticity

Your brain’s capacity to respond to changes can be illustrated with the following example: Following the same way as you always do, you set off for work. You soon find that there is an accident blocking your way. What is your reaction to this blockage? Is giving up and going home an option? Unless of course you’re searching for a reason not to go to work, probably not. You would probably quickly seek an alternate way to go. As long as your primary route was closed this new route would become your new routine. If the new route turned out to be more efficient, you would replace the old one with it.

In your brain, when normal functions are not working the same thing occurs. The brain sends its processing along with alternative paths, and this re-routing process is called neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity can help you master a new language, or in learning new skills such as martial arts or forming healthy habits. Gradually, the physical changes to the brain adapt to match the new pathways and once-challenging tasks become automatic. Neuroplasticity can be equally as good at causing you to forget things you already know as it can be at assisting you in learning new skills.

Neuroplasticity And Loss of Hearing

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, when your brain stops 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. The link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline can be explained by this.

When you have hearing loss, the parts of your brain in charge of functions, like vision or touch, can take over the under-utilized areas of the brain responsible for hearing. 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 reality that your brain may already be beginning to restructure.

Can Hearing Aids Help

As with most things, you get both a negative and positive side to this awesome ability. Neuroplasticity enhances the performance of your hearing aids even though it might make your hearing loss worse. Thanks to your brain’s talent of regenerating tissue and to reroute neural pathways, you can get the most from the technology inside your ear. Hearing aids encourage mental growth by stimulating the parts of your brain associated with loss of hearing.

In fact, a long-term study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 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.

We already understood a lot about neuroplasticity and this study verifies that understanding: if you don’t use it you will end up losing it because the brain organizes its functions according to the amount of stimulation it gets and the need at hand.”

Retaining a Young Brain

It doesn’t matter how old you are, the versatility of the brain means that it can modify itself at any point in time. You should also take into consideration that hearing loss can accelerate mental deterioration and that this decline can be decreased or even prevented by wearing hearing aids.

Don’t dismiss your hearing aids as simple 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 increase your brain’s performance regardless of your age is.

To ensure your quality of life, hearing aids are a must have. Becoming isolated and withdrawn is a common problem for those with hearing loss. If you want to remain active and independent, get 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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