The human brain is incredibly adaptable to changes in its environment. Researchers have found that structural changes in the brain due to hearing loss may be reversed with the use of hearing aids.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt by forming new neural connections throughout life. This can be in response to:
- Receiving new information
- Sensory stimulation
- Damage or disease to certain parts of the brain
- Other changes in environment
Hearing Loss Can Cause Changes in Your Brain
Hearing loss can change your brain due to a lack of stimulation. When you struggle to hear, you no longer pick up on certain sounds. This means the parts of your brain that usually process these sounds do not get the stimulation they are used to and can begin to change in several ways:
- Parts of the brain that are responsible for vision and touch can start to recruit areas of the brain where hearing is processed. This is known as cross-modal re-organization.
- Areas of the brain where hearing is processed may start to shrink or atrophy due to lack of use.
Isolation and Cognitive Decline
Another way hearing loss can affect the brain is through isolation. As your hearing worsens, it can become more difficult to understand speech. Conversing with your friends at Lynn’s Bistro can start to feel overwhelming instead of enjoyable.
Many with hearing loss cope with this by isolating themselves from others. This robs their brain of even more stimulation since they are not interacting with others. This is one of the reasons that isolation and hearing loss have been associated with faster rates of cognitive decline and dementia.
Using Hearing Aids May Reverse Changes in Brain
A 2020 study tested the cognitive function of 28 adults with mild to moderate age-related hearing loss against 13 adults with normal hearing.
Participants were evaluated once while their hearing loss was untreated. They were then given hearing aids to wear for six months and were evaluated again.
The baseline exam revealed that participants with hearing loss showed evidence of recruitment during a visual processing task. They also had poorer speech perception and worse cognitive function than those with normal hearing.
However, after six months of using hearing aids, researchers found:
- A reversal of recruitment
- Improved speech perception
- Improved cognitive function
Get Hearing Tested to Protect Cognitive Function
If you have signs of hearing loss or even if you are unsure, schedule a hearing test with an audiologist. Hearing loss is almost always progressive, and an earlier diagnosis likely means a better treatment outcome.
To keep your ears and brain healthy, call Evergreen Speech and Hearing Clinic to schedule an appointment today.