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Woman with hearing loss happy to have her freedom and independence while riding in a convertible.

You will never forget getting your first car. Nothing can be compared to that sense of independence. At any time you could reach out to a few friends and go wherever you wanted. For many, getting their first hearing aids is a similar experience.

Why would investing in your first pair of hearing aids be like getting your first car? There are some less obvious reasons why wearing hearing aids can help you make sure you don’t lose your independence. It so happens that your brain’s functionality is profoundly affected by loss of hearing.

Neuroplasticity

The following example illustrates exactly how your brain reacts to changes: You’re on your way to your job, taking the same way you always do. You soon discover that there is an car accident blocking your way. How would you react? Would you just quit and go home? Unless you’re searching for an excuse to not go to work, probably not. Seeking out a different way to go is more than likely what you would do. For as long as your regular route was closed this new route would turn into your new everyday routine. If the new route turned out to be more efficient, you would replace the old one with it.

The same thing takes place in your brain when a “normal” function is blocked or otherwise not working. The brain sends its processing down alternative pathways, and this re-routing process is called neuroplasticity.

Mastering new abilities like playing an instrument, or learning a new language are accomplished by neuroplasticity. It also helps you build healthy habits. Tasks that were at one time challenging become automatic as physical changes to the brain gradually adapt to match the new pathways. While neuroplasticity can be beneficial for learning new things, it can also be equally as good at causing you to you forget what you know.

Hearing Loss And Neuroplasticity

A perfect example of how neuroplasticity can have a negative impact is hearing loss. As explained in The Hearing Review, The pathways in your brain will immediately start to be re-purposed if they quit processing sound according to a study done by the University of Colorado. This is something you may not want it to be doing. The association between loss of hearing and cognitive decrease can be explained by this.

The areas of your brain which are responsible for hearing will get re-purposed for different functions such as vision and touch. The available resources in your brain used to process sound are lessened and so is your ability to understand speech.

So, if you find yourself asking “what was that?” regularly, you already have loss of hearing. And even more significant is the fact that your brain might already be beginning to restructure.

Can Hearing Aids Help

As with most things, there is both a negative and positive angle to this astonishing ability. Neuroplasticity may possibly make your loss of hearing worse, but it also elevates the performance of hearing aids. You can definitely take advantage of current hearing aid technology because of the brain’s amazing ability to regenerate tissue and reroute neural paths. Hearing aids encourage mental growth by stimulating the parts of your brain linked with hearing loss.

In fact, a long-term study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It found that having a set of hearing aids reduced cognitive decline in people with hearing loss. The study, titled Self-Reported Hearing Loss: Hearing Aids and Cognitive Decline in Elderly Adults: A 25-year Study, followed over three thousand adults age 65 and older over a 25 year period. The study showed that people with hearing loss had a higher rate of cognitive decline. However, people that used hearing aids to correct their hearing loss showed no difference in the rate of cognitive decline compared to those with normal hearing.

The most useful part of this study is that we can validate what we already understand about neuroplasticity: the brain will manage functions according to the current need and the amount of stimulation it is given. To put it another way, you need to, “use it or lose it.”

Preserving a Youthful Brain

It doesn’t matter how old you are, the versatility of the brain means it can change itself at any point in time. It’s also important to note that hearing loss can hasten mental decline and that this decline can be reduced or even averted by wearing hearing aids.

Hearing aids are high-tech hearing enhancement technology, not just over-the-counter amplifiers. According to leading brain plasticity expert Dr. Michael Merzenich, you can increase your brain function regardless of any health conditions by forcing yourself to accomplish challenging new activities, being active socially, and practicing mindfulness among other techniques.

Hearing aids are an important part of guaranteeing your quality of life. People who have hearing loss often become withdrawn or isolated. Simply by investing in a pair of hearing aids, you can ensure that you stay active and independent. Keep in mind that if you want your brain to stay as young as you feel it needs to keep processing sound and receiving stimulation.