“But surely I’m too young for hearing aids”
People often wait many years from the time that they first notice that their hearing is not what it used to be before they take the step to address their hearing loss. However, research studies released in the last few years have revealed important reasons why people should address their hearing loss as early as possible.
The thought of wearing a hearing aid can cause many people to feel a little anxious – they worry (largely unnecessarily) about not wanting to be perceived as old or a possible stigma that may be associated with having a disability. While it is common for people to think “I’m still too young for hearing aids”, there is no evidence to support the view that hearing loss is less likely to occur in people who see themselves as young and sexy!
Time and time again our clients tell stories about how they wish they had done something sooner. They feel younger and more confident as a result of wearing hearing aids.
Sensory Deprivation – “Use it or lose it”
One study compared people who were fitted with hearing aids for both ears against people fitted with a single hearing aid. Looking at the data, scientists concluded that a person’s ability to understand speech in an unaided ear deteriorated over time faster than their ability to understand speech in their aided ear.
For most people, this deterioration in the unaided ear was reversible if a hearing aid was later fitted to this ear. However, if the period without a hearing aid was long enough, then not only is recovery unlikely but other full advantages of hearing with both ears may never be attainable. That is, if we don’t use it, we may lose it.
This provides the rationale for addressing hearing loss sooner and fitting hearing aids to both ears, if both are affected by hearing loss.
Neural Plasticity – “Use it or it will start doing something else”
At our hearing clinics, clients being fitted for the first time despite the fact they have more severe hearing losses that they have taken many years to address are more likely to say something along the lines of: “It sounds horribly tinny.”
Unfortunately, this has more to do with changes in the brain that have occurred while hearing loss was not being address rather than the sound quality of the hearing aid.
Sounds are processed in the brain by neurons that are ‘wired’ to process sound at specific frequencies. Research has now shown that when those neurons are denied those frequencies due to hearing loss, the brain will reprogram those neurons to do something else. In simple terms, this could be described as “use it, or it will start doing something else”.
This process can be reversed over time, at least to some degree, in most people. This has led to three key improvements in the field of hearing care:
- Early intervention will produce the greatest long term benefit and satisfaction for hearing aid wearers.
- When introducing a hearing aid to someone who has lived with hearing loss for a long time, we need for them to hear those ‘tinny’ sounds as this helps retrain their brain. Eventually sounds may no longer seem tinny at all. This is known as Aural Rehabilitation.
- Clinicians need to manage clients’ expectations when they are first being fitted with a hearing aid – particularly if they have lived with hearing loss for a long time.