Auditory Deprivation & Brain Deterioration
The term 'auditory deprivation' refers to a person's lack of adequate hearing stimulation.
Audiologists have noted that people who do not deal with their hearing loss for several years following the first signs of hearing loss, may have already caused irreparable damage to their cognitive processes.
This can make their hearing loss harder to address even with the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants because the hearing loss causes the hearing mechanism to be under-used, resulting in the weakening of the entire hearing system.
Scientific studies reveal there is a direct link between hearing loss and the deterioration of the brain's functions including the ability to decipher and translate sounds into recognisable words.
"IT'S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU HEAR, IT IS ABOUT WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HEAR"
Declining Brain Function
Studies have also shown that the effects of hearing loss are cumulative. Just as muscles grow weak from lack of use, the brain loses its ability to process sounds and recognize speech without regular auditory stimulation. By the time you finally acknowledge that your hearing loss is real, you may have already lost the full appreciation of sounds and the music you once enjoyed.
Most hearing loss occurs very slowly in both ears over a long period of time. Unless regularly tested, people tend not to notice this decline but gradually withdraw socially. They may well smile and nod their heads, but not actually hear or understand what is being said to them. Eventually they stop going into noisy environments where they can't cope with what the brain interprets as noise (not conversation) and consequently they slowly lose their cognitive ability to process sounds and separate speech from noise.
"THE BRAIN ISN'T BEING KEPT STIMULATED AND GRADUALLY LOSES ITS ABILITY TO RECOGNISE CERTAIN SOUNDS AS WORDS AND LANGUAGE"
A problem then arises, after years of declining hearing ability, when a person finally gets tested and acquires a set of hearing aids, only to find that the volume of sounds has increased but they still have major difficulties in understanding words, especially in noisy environments.
The hearing aids are working just fine in enabling the wearer to hear sounds. The sounds are now audible to the ear but the brain struggles to interpret and process these sounds and this is where the problems lay. The hearing aid makes the sounds audible; however, the brain has lost its ability to process those sounds.
Therefore, early intervention with hearing loss is critical to minimise the harmful effects of auditory deprivation.
If you are advised by a hearing professional that you have a loss requiring correction, the smart thing to do is to address the problem immediately. The longer you wait the less positive the outcome is likely to be.
Ageing and Hearing Loss
Current studies are looking into the positive effects that hearing aids have on ageing outcomes:
"ADULTS WITH HEARING LOSS ARE SIGNIFICANLTY MORE LIKELY THAN ADULTS WITH NORMAL HEARING TO DEVELOP DEMENTIA"
"If you put in a lot of effort just to comprehend what you're hearing, it takes resources that would otherwise be available for encoding [what you hear] in memory," says Arthur Wingfield, professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University.
"Hearing loss may affect brain structure in a way that contributes to cognitive problems." "Cognitive load" is the effort of constantly straining to understand speech and stresses the brain.
"Hearing loss is independently associated with incidental-cause dementia. Whether hearing loss is a marker for early-stage dementia or is actually a modifiable risk factor for dementia deserves further study."
(Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. American Medical Association 2011. R. Lin, MD, PhD; E. Jeffrey Metter, MD; Richard J. O'Brien, MD, PhD; Susan M. Resnick, PhD; Alan B. Zonderman, PhD; Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD)
The Power of Hearing
Everyone has different reasons for putting off seeking help for hearing loss, from price issues and vanity concerns to preconceived and often outdated ideas of how hearing aids perform.
Today's hearing aids - like all high-tech devices - have come a long way in terms of looks and performance. And independent research shows that hearing aid usage has a positive effect on:
- Earning power
- Communication in relationships
- Intimacy and warmth in family relationships
- Ease in communication
- Emotional stability
- Sense of control over life events
- Perception of mental functioning
- Physical health
Steps to Combat Hearing Loss
The first step is making an appointment to be examined by an audiologist, who will identify the extent and type of your hearing problem. The assessment is conducted by a skilled clinician and takes about 30 minutes.
Audiologists are health-care professionals who evaluate, diagnose, treat and manage hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders in newborns, children and adults. An audiologist is a clinician who has completed an undergraduate university degree and a two-year master's degree in audiology.
"A FULL DIAGNOSTIC HEARING ASSESSMENT IS EASY, PAINLESS AND NON-INVASIVE"
A hearing assessment includes an ear examination and specialised testing to evaluate hearing sensitivity and response to speech. If hearing loss is detected the audiologist will guide you through your options.
A hearing assessment should be conducted in a sound insulated room. Your audiologist will ask you questions and examine your ears and then check your ears by playing tones through earplugs or a headset.
Your audiologist will explain the hearing assessment results to you and chat about possible solutions, like whether or not hearing devices are needed.
Should hearing aids be required, a clinician will help select the best device. There are four types of digital hearing aids to provide different hearing solutions – Behind-the-ear (BTE), Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE, RIC), Invisible-in-the-canal styles (IIC), Canal styles (CIC, ITC, ITE)
The audiologist may take an impression of your ear to capture an exact duplicate of its contours for the best fit, and will order the selected hearing aids. Delivery normally takes one to two weeks. The audiologist then fits your hearing devices and teaches you how to use them.
Once they're up and running, your new hearing devices should last at least five years.
Getting the best from your hearing devices takes time and practice as your brain acclimatises to hearing more. The audiologist monitors your progress and fine-tunes the hearing devices for optimum performance.
"BUT IN AUSTRALIA, THE AVERAGE MAN DIAGNOSED WITH HEARING LOSS WILL TAKE BETWEEN SEVEN AND 10 YEARS TO ACT ON IT"
Researched, compiled, composed and written by Dr Steven Gration (BEd. PhD) October 2019
Sources and Further Reading
Related: Achieve Trial 2018-2021
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