"Recent research has revealed two scientific reasons to consider wearing hearing aids earlier – and these have arisen from studies on the topics of Sensory Deprivation and Neural Plasticity."
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. For most people, hearing loss occurs gradually and they often are not fully aware how much their hearing has changed.
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'. Self image and pride are great inhibitors to people addressing hearing loss – more so than the perceptions others truly have about us.
All around the country there are Aussie blokes sucking in their tummies, poking out their chests and thinking to themselves - "I'm doing alright for my age" and "you're a handsome devil".
Unfortunately, hearing loss does not discriminate based on how young and sexy someone appears to themselves!
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.
Now, research has revealed two scientific reasons to consider wearing hearing aids earlier – and these have arisen from studies on the topics of Sensory Deprivation and Neural Plasticity.
Sensory Deprivation – "Use it or lose it"
Studies looked specifically at people with hearing loss in both ears (binaural loss), comparing people who were fitted with hearing aids for both ears against people fitted with a single hearing aid.
The research revealed conclusively 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 is later fitted to this ear.
However, if the period without a hearing aid is 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.
So this is the rationale for both 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"
In basic terms, the role of a hearing aid is to amplify sounds to the amount required to restore normal hearing levels. Often newly fitted clients express would say: - "It sounds horribly tinny".
The audiologist would then adjust the hearing aids to suit the preferences of the wearer – however we now know that this may not have been the best approach.
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 the 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:
- Someone's ability to process the full range of sounds that make up speech is lessened over time by hearing loss, so earlier fitting of hearing aids is beneficial to the wearer
- 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, until the sounds no longer seem tinny at all. This is known as Aural Rehabilitation.
- A client's expectations need to be managed when being fitted with a hearing aid. As great as modern technology is, hearing aids cannot replicate normal hearing.
So maybe you are too young not to wear hearing aids!
For these two reasons, it is important to address hearing loss early – even if you feel that you can "manage a little longer without hearing aids".
As well as feeling the benefits to your life and lifestyle sooner, you will also stop any permanent loss of future benefits and positive experience that you will enjoy when you get around to experiencing hearing aids for the first time.
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