“If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

The Importance of Brain Stimulation in Hearing

Most people think that we hear with our ears. Yes, our ears are our hearing organs and where sound is picked-up, but in actual fact, it is our brain with which we hear, and our ears are simply the receptors. Our ears receive the sound stimuli, and our brain makes sense of it. It is therefore very important that our brain receives the adequate amount of stimulation in order to be able to take the sound information and turn it into something we can understand. Sound is only actually “heard” when the hearing centres of the brain receive the electrical signals from the ear, process them and generate a reaction.

People often ask, “Will my hearing get worse if I don’t get hearing aids?”. The simple answer is no. Your ability to detect sound will not necessarily deteriorate faster if you don’t wear hearing aids. HOWEVER, the more in-depth answer is that if you have a hearing loss and decide not to wear hearing aids, you are essentially depriving your brain of the stimulation it needs in order for it to continue to fully understand speech and other sound signals. Therefore, your understanding of the sounds that have been detected is more likely to get worse more rapidly without the correct amount of stimulation. This lack of stimulation will not only cause the hearing nerves to weaken over time, the hearing centres of the brain are also likely to weaken, due to this auditory deprivation. The centres will deteriorate, thus lowering the ability of the brain to process speech correctly. Hence the recovery from hearing loss through mechanical means, such as a hearing aid, will become that much more difficult if you wait too long. So, in spite of the fact that hearing aid technology is incredibly advanced currently, hearing aids alone do not replace the brain, and cannot reproduce this comprehension that is vital for communication. Like all parts of your body, it is crucial to keep your hearing nerves functioning well by making use of them. Try to think of your hearing as exercise for your nerves. The longer you don’t make use of the nerves, the more difficult it becomes to discriminate between speech signals even when we do hear it.

Another question that people commonly ask is, “Do I have to get two hearing aids; can’t I just get one?” If you have completely normal hearing in one of your ears and a hearing loss in the other, then you can get away with just one. But if you have hearing loss in both of your ears, having a hearing aid on just one side, means depriving the other side of the stimulation it needs. This single-sided setup can cause the unaided ear’s nerve to weaken over time, and so if you ever do decide to get a hearing aid for that ear, it will have a far more difficult time adapting to sound. It is also far easier to localize sound and understand speech in noise if your brain is receiving the correct sound signals from both of your ears.

What if you have hearing aids already? The consistent use of the hearing aids (9 – 10 hours a day) can result in a shorter acclimatization period, a higher chance of success with the devices, as well as better speech discrimination scores. This is because your brain only has to get used to one way of hearing, thus it is given enough time to make sense of all the new sound information it is receiving. People that don’t wear their hearing aids consistently and only wear them when in a social setting, are forcing their brains to constantly jump between two sets of sounds, not giving their brain the time it needs to acclimatize. Therefore, processing the sounds produced by hearing aids can become very difficult and overwhelming.

Remember, the way to keep hearing better for longer, is to stimulate those nerves and hearing centres, and don’t let them weaken! As soon as a hearing loss is detected, speak to your hearing care professional to find out what the best way is for you to keep your hearing nerves and brain active. Early treatment with the appropriate medical care and/or assistive device, can lead to faster and better results.

– By Talia Lifson