Woman smiling through her auditory processing disorder

Benefits of Hearing Aids

May 26, 2021

According to the NIDCD, one in 8 Americans over the age of 12 years old have some kind of hearing loss. 8.5% of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 have a debilitating hearing loss. This rate increases to 25% for adults between the ages of 64 and 75, and 50% of adults older than 75 have a debilitating hearing loss. These statistics become alarming when you take into account that only 20% of Americans with hearing loss seek treatment. On average, individuals wait 10 years after the initial diagnosis of a hearing loss to seek treatment in the form of hearing aids. Here are a few benefits of using hearing aids.

Neural plasticity

Delaying getting hearing aids if you have hearing loss can reduce your ability to understand speech. Getting treatment early for hearing loss means that your chances of doing well with hearing aids are much higher. The longer you wait, the worse it might become and the harder it could be to treat your hearing loss effectively.

We hear with our brain, our ears just deliver the sound to the brain. Your ears function as instruments to collect sounds and deliver these sounds to your brain. The speech interpretation center of your brain processes these sounds into words. If your ears cannot hear the sounds, then your brain does not have anything to process. The lack of stimulation in this area of the brain causes you to lose the ability to understand speech. So, basically, if you aren’t hearing the words, you eventually lose the ability to understand them.

Studies have shown us that even a mild hearing loss can cause cortical reorganization. This means the brain changes in response to not receiving sounds from our ears. Imaging studies have shown that the brain starts compensating from a lack of auditory input. When your brain finds something difficult and effortful to understand, it will compensate by relying more on vision to accomplish this task- e.g. lip reading. Eventually, the brain will start re-organizing itself to not use the part responsible for hearing anymore.

Hearing aids can prevent cortical reorganization from taking place. By providing constant auditory stimulation to your brain, hearing aids keep the brain fit. Remember, your brain is like a muscle, if you don’t use it, you will eventually start losing its much-needed functionality.

Auditory fatigue

When you have a hearing loss, it becomes an effort to participate in conversations. You have to really concentrate in order to understand what people are saying. In the cochlea in your inner ear, there are three rows of outer hair cells. These hair cells are arranged according to frequency (pitch), like a piano. The purpose of these hair cells is to pick up sounds and change these sounds to electrical impulses which are then sent to the brain.

If these hair cells are damaged, the brain has to work extra hard to process and understand the sounds you are hearing. This can lead to fatigue at the end of the day. So if you are struggling with nagging feelings of tiredness, your hearing loss could be the culprit, however, hearing aids can help! One of the most notable benefits of hearing aids is that it makes it easier for you to understand conversations, which means less effort and less fatigue at the end of the day.

Hearing loss and Dementia

Untreated hearing loss often leads to social isolation. People with hearing loss may not want to participate in social activities anymore, as it becomes increasingly difficult for them to understand and follow conversations. This can lead to depression and other psychological problems.

Recent studies have shown us that people with hearing loss are 24% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. The worse your hearing loss becomes, the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s/Dementia. The Lancet Commission found that of the 9 possible risk factors to develop Dementia, hearing loss was the highest risk.

There are many theories that explain why hearing loss increases your chances of developing Dementia, most notably sensory deprivation, and social isolation. Hearing aids can make you part of the conversation again and provide your brain with access to sounds, therefore decreasing your risk of developing dementia.

Tinnitus

Hearing a ringing sound in the ear (tinnitus) is a very common complaint among people with hearing loss. Uninformed health care workers often crush tinnitus sufferers’ hopes by saying there is nothing further that can be done. This is not true; hearing aids can provide a lot of relief to tinnitus sufferers.

Tinnitus is a sound your brain generates as a result of outer hair cell damage in your inner ear. As soon as you provide your brain with something else to listen to, the brain tends to not focus on the tinnitus anymore. The additional sounds you are exposed to because of the hearing aids can mask your tinnitus, and can often lead to relief even after you have taken the hearing aids out.

Quality of life

Overall, the biggest benefit of hearing aids is that it increases your quality of life. Studies show that hearing aid users sleep better, they are less stressed and they experience lower levels of loneliness and depression.

The moral of the story? Don’t delay treatment! If you notice a decline in your hearing, get tested and get help as soon as possible!

Image of post writer Nadia van Eyssen.

Written by Nadia van Eyssen

B. Communication Pathology Audiology

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