When you think of the consequences of untreated hearing loss, what do you come up with? Most people will list things like trouble communicating, difficulty talking on the phone, strained relationships and social isolation, all of which can greatly impact your quality of life. But there are other ways hearing loss can impact your wellbeing that many don’t know about. One of these ways is called auditory deprivation.
Understanding Auditory Deprivation
Hearing loss doesn’t just affect your ears; it impacts your brain as well.
When your ears are damaged and can no longer detect certain frequencies and volumes, the part of your brain responsible for interpreting sounds no longer receives these signals. As a result, these parts of the brain become reassigned to other tasks like visual processing and/or begin to shrink.
According to a 2014 study, this just doesn’t affect people whose hearing loss is severe; even those with mild hearing loss can experience auditory deprivation.
“Overall, our findings provide the first evidence that visual cross-modal re-organization not only begins in the early stages of hearing impairment, but may also be an important factor in determining behavioral outcomes for listeners with hearing loss,” said study authors.
Use It or Lose It
There’s a common phrase among audiologists when it comes to talking about auditory deprivation: “Use it or lose it.” What this means is the longer you wait to seek treatment for hearing loss, the more trouble your brain has processing and understanding once you do.
Think of your hearing like the PTO you accrue at work. If you want to take your family on a trip to the Topeka Zoo & Conservation Center, you have to use it before it expires. Your hearing and ability to process sound works the same way.
Is It Possible to Reverse the Effects of Auditory Deprivation?
It’s not entirely clear whether the effects of auditory deprivation are permanent, but experts suspect it is varies from person to person.
Overall, though, 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,” explained Jenilee Pulido, Au.D., of HearCare Audiology Center in Sarasota, Fla.
While there are no sure answers, it seems entirely possible that the use of hearing aids can reverse these effects, though research is still being conducted on this topic.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with hearing experts, call Topeka ENT today!