Hearing loss may be causing changes in the long-term brain structure of the estimated 50 million people in the United States who suffer from it, a new study that was highlighted on futurity.org shows.
Using imaging studies the researchers examined people with hearing loss, normal hearing, and those with hearing loss and tinnitus. They found that people in the hearing loss group showed structural changes in their brains. With hearing loss certain frequencies are no longer processed due to damage somewhere in the auditory pathway. When your ears and brain no longer receive these sounds due to loss of function, you deprive them of sensory input, and with continued deprivation it can result in long-term structural changes.
An interesting element of the study was seen in the case of tinnitus. The research team saw few changes to brain structure despite changes to function, suggesting that when sensory deprivation is accompanied by self-generated noise, it may be better at preserving neural tissue.
This study shows the reality of the phrase “use it or loose it.” Hearing loss is irreversible, however by using amplification such as hearing aids, you are able to stimulate regions of your brain that would otherwise loose sensory input. Read more about their research.