We live in a world where cognition, memory, attention, and the ability to hear all play a critical role in the way we listen. When identified with a hearing loss, many think the simple solution is to obtain amplification through hearing instruments. Although hearing instruments will help you “hear,” the technology only puts into place one piece of the auditory puzzle.
No matter if you have perfect hearing, or have been identified with a hearing loss, in difficult listening situations we use knowledge previously learned to “fill in the blanks.” The only difference is that when a person with a hearing loss deprives their brain of sound to any degree, “cross-modal (plasticity) reorganization” occurs.
If any of you are like me, you are probably scratching your head at the previous terms. I went straight to our doctors of audiology to learn more about exactly what happens when our brain demonstrates “plasticity.”
Our brains are filled with neurons that are interconnected. When we increase or reduce the level of sensations or experiences being introduced to the brain, “plasticity” occurs – or the reorganization of the way that information is transferred through the brain. When certain sounds are not heard due to a hearing loss, the auditory system undergoes significant changes. Information that was once seamlessly transferred from hearing to cognition can become a slow and difficult process for listeners with a hearing loss. When listening in a noisy situation, such as a restaurant or group outing, the brain can mix up the acoustic signals, causing a difficult time recalling and comprehending the information.
Luckily the human brain is highly amenable to training, habilitation and rehabilitation at any age. In order to “re-train” your brain to work seamlessly with your hearing, aural rehabilitation Is used. This form of training pieces together hearing instruments with a program that enhances cognition, develops long and short term memory, and focuses on the recognition of words in group settings and rapid speech. In other words, aural rehab is a workout routine for your mind! When paired with hearing instruments you not only begin to hear, but begin to listen.