We are often asked “I’m home alone - do I really need to wear my hearing aids?” The quick answer is YES! We encourage our patients to wear their devices as much as possible every day. Below are some of the reasons, supported by science.Progressive Hearing Loss Results in Brain Rewiring:
When we lose our hearing, it typically occurs very slowly over a period of years. The insidious nature of the change means that over time, sounds in our environment become less noticeable until, in many cases, they no longer are heard at all.Sounds no longer heard can include both environmental and speech sounds.
These sounds may include simple environmental sounds like birds singing, footsteps, a car turn signal, someone flipping through the pages of a magazine, running water etc. Missing sounds These sounds also include speech sounds. Typically the high frequency sounds like /f/, /s/, /t/, /th/, /sh/, /k/, are affected first. This leads people to often express that they can hear people, but have difficulty understanding what they said. As the hearing loss worsens over time, the hearing nerve begins to lose the ability to send the sound signals on to the brain and the brain begins to "forget" that these signals exist. Once the brain forgets certain sounds exist it begins to rewire to focus on those sounds that remain and do the best it can with what’s left. The longer the brain experiences this form of sound desensitization, the more “cemented” the faulty rewiring process becomes. Sadly, on average people with hearing loss wait an average of 8-9 years before addressing their hearing loss. This delay makes the adjustment process more difficult and contributes negatively to a patient’s ability to adapt to and benefit from hearing aids, particularly during the initial days and weeks of hearing aid use.
Consistent Hearing Aids Use Can Rewire/Reactivate Dormant Pathways in the Brain
Ever heard the term “neuroplasticity”? It refers to the brain’s marvelous ability to make adjustments. The good news is, just as the brain will “rewire” to adapt to a hearing loss, it will also “rewire” to the signals sent by a hearing aid! Our most successful patients wear their hearing aids 12-16 hours per day. This consistent hearing aid use will help rewire the brain to once again categorize signals as important and in need of focus (or unimportant and can be ignored).This process takes some persistence, patience and time.
As you can imagine, the brain is initially surprised and a bit confused by this new sound information. The unused neural connections need to “re-learn” sound. Many hearing aid users reports common sounds such as paper, dishes clanging, road noise, and one’s own voice very noticeable at first. For this reason, when we initially fit a patient who has experienced long term hearing loss “desensitization”, we sometimes start with amplification levels below optimal and then gradually increase the amplification target over a series of appointments with adaptation time in between. This helps the brain gradually re-wire and can help the patient with overall acceptance of the device.When you hear better it helps everyone.
Adult children often express concern about their loved ones health and safety if they don’t hear or answer the telephone or the doorbell. Neighbors appreciate not hearing a television set so loud that it disturbs others. Impromptu conversations with a neighbor at the mailbox are easier and meaningful. Being able to hear typical household sounds like a malfunctioning running toilet can save time and money.
To reach your full potential, wear your hearing aids as much as possible! Hearing levels with the hearing aids on need to become the new “normal”. Simply said, wear the aids whenever you are “awake and dry”.
Are you concerned you may have hearing loss? Take our free, online hearing screening here.