How Does Hearing Loss Affect the Brain?
The brain is the center of operations for our entire body, but it can be affected by both physical and intangible ailments. While hearing loss affects our ability to hear, it can also lead to changes in the brain.
Hearing loss can occur in anyone, no matter their age or race. Because hearing loss affects so many aspects of people's lives, there have been many studies to explore how it changes the brain. The results are interesting and show how much the brain can alter to make up for lost senses. Neuroplasticity refers to the rewiring of the brain to handle new functions and situations. In people with hearing loss, the brain is rewired in a number of ways, right down to its higher functions.
Cross-Modal Cortical Reorganization
Despite the long name, this is actually not a complicated process. When hearing loss occurs, the brain has to overcompensate for this lost sense in some way. By placing additional emphasis on other senses like touch and vision, this process leads to fatigue and adversely affects concentration.
While this can help hard of hearing people cope to some degree with the loss of their hearing, it can cause detrimental effects to brain function. For example, when a person experiences hearing loss, the area of the brain that processes sound begins to deteriorate. This leads to problems understanding speech and language. Because the brain has to overcompensate for these weakening brain functions, higher-level thinking is forfeited for speech understanding. This can lead to a host of other problems, including the possible acceleration of dementia.
How Hearing Aids Can Help
In most cases, hearing loss is a gradual process. This makes it difficult to identify, as the person might not even realize they cannot hear certain sounds anymore. In fact, the brain can hold memories of sounds for several years. After this, they begin to forget the sounds entirely.
Hearing aids enable people to hear properly, stimulating the hearing centers in their brains. The brain's higher functions can continue their intended purpose and do not have to overcompensate for failing senses.
Seeking Treatment Earlier
Intervention in the early stages of hearing loss can also prevent brain reorganization. Because the hearing loss is corrected early, there is no need for the brain to rewire itself to bolster other senses. The hearing aid wearer can benefit from the stimulation of sound, while still maintaining a healthy brain makeup.
Despite the importance of early intervention, many people suffering from hearing loss do not seek treatment. Some do not even acknowledge they're suffering from hearing loss, while others avoid confronting the problem for personal reasons. Precious years pass before many hard of hearing people begin seeking help for their condition. Much can happen to a person's brain in seven years, and much of this deterioration is easily preventable.
The solution? Awareness and pro-activity regarding hearing loss. Everyone, not just those with hearing loss, should take a hearing test regularely. Online tests can offer a first good insight into whether or not a full test at a hearing care professional is necessary. The Signia hearing test is a good example of a fast, reliable online hearing test.
Hearing loss affects more than just your life, it also alters your brain. If you think you might be losing your hearing, seek a diagnosis.