Hearing Help is Important Earlier than You Think
Adults identified as hard-of-hearing tend to wait seven to 10 years, on average, before pursuing hearing aids. However, we now know more about the human body than ever before, and scientists have reason to believe that hearing loss should be treated when it is first noticed – and that can be much earlier than the senior years.
How Hearing Works
There is a difference between the ear picking up sounds and an individual truly understanding what those sounds mean. The ear is built to catch sound waves, and it changes those sound waves to signals that are directed to the part of the brain that processes sounds: the auditory cortex. This is where what you hear really takes shape. The brain cells in the auditory cortex interpret the signals coming from the ears and the listener recognizes those signals as words, music and background sounds; the soundscape of everyday life.
What Hearing Loss Does to the Brain
One of the most impressive qualities of the brain is its ability to respond and adapt to the environment around it. It's a very important ability to have, but adaptation and brain changes can have some drawbacks when it comes to hearing loss.
When a person develops hearing loss, the ear loses some of its ability to pick up sounds. When that happens, the auditory cortex receives fewer sound signals. The brain detects that the auditory cortex is not being used efficiently and begins to adapt.
Even in the earliest stages of age-related hearing loss, other areas of the brain start recruiting the cells that were once consistently used for processing sound. The brain allocates this unused brain power elsewhere. For example, cells that were once used for processing sound may start being used to process visual cues. Portions of the brain that once received constant audio stimulation and processed sound are no longer being used for that purpose. Since fewer cells are available for hearing, more brain effort is required to process sound, which means that hearing is more of a chore and isn't always as clear as it once was.
In extreme cases, the brain may “forget" how to process certain sound signals, making speech muffled and difficult for the listener to understand. This is why even after being expertly fit for state-of-the-art hearing technologies, some people complain that they still struggle to hear.
How Can I Prepare for a Future of Good Hearing?
Prevention is key for healthy hearing. The use of noise-protection ear plugs can protect against noise-induced hearing loss. At the first sign of hearing changes at any age, seek out a licensed audiologist, like those at the Boys Town National Research Hospital®, to test hearing and discuss treatment options.
One of the first indicators of hearing loss is difficulty hearing or understanding speech in noisy environments, such as restaurants. If you or a loved one notices this problem on a consistent basis, or if the inability to hear is causing avoidance of social situations, schedule a hearing evaluation to see if it's time to look into hearing assistive technology.
If you would like more information on hearing loss or need help determining whether a hearing aid is right for you or a loved one, please contact Boys Town Hospital at 531-355-0815 or click here to
request an appointment with an audiologist.