Hearing loss is a progressive condition, meaning it often develops so slowly many are unaware they have it until it becomes difficult to treat. In addition, many people who exhibit symptoms tend to live in denial; this may be because they are unwilling to admit they need help or because they associate hearing aids with being “old.” Whatever the reason, it’s never a good idea to delay treatment for hearing loss. If you do, you put your brain at risk.
Untreated Hearing Loss Causes Brain Atrophy
We don’t just use our ears to hear; we also use our brains. When fewer sound signals are sent to the brain, it begins to change how it operates. This is known as auditory deprivation. According to a 2014 study, even with mild cases of hearing loss, the parts of the brain that typically handle auditory processing get reassigned to visual processing when they don’t receive enough stimuli.
Use It or Lose It
According to audiologist Jenilee Pulido, Au.D., “The longer you wait to seek treatment, the [more the] brain has trouble understanding and processing information.”
Unfortunately, this will continue to affect you even after you begin wearing hearing aids. If your brain has already rewired itself to power other senses, it will be more difficult for it to re-learn to process and understand sounds even with treatment. While you may be able to hear the sound of someone’s voice much more clearly, your brain will continue to struggle to understand the words that are uttered.
Is Auditory Deprivation Permanent?
It’s not totally clear whether atrophy in the brain caused by hearing loss is permanent or not, and experts suspect it varies from person to person. However, according to Pulido, the “brain is very [flexible] and it can make a lot of changes—once it’s being stimulated, new connections can form so that it can understand more information.”
A small study from earlier this year found that consistent use of hearing aids may improve negative changes in the brain.
Take the Leap Today
In addition to making it harder for your brain to re-learn how to process sounds once you start wearing hearing aids, leaving your hearing loss untreated puts you at risk for social withdrawal, anxiety, depression and even dementia. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Aaron’s Hearing Aid & Audiology Center today.