Isn’t it a strange irony that humans sometimes resist doing those very things that will prove to be of benefit? Whether it’s a matter of changing the diet, exercising more, wearing reading glasses or a hearing aid, how often do old habits, pride, laziness or fear get in the way?
Indeed, the latest research shows that wearing a hearing aid has cognitive benefits beyond the simple reward of being able to hear more easily. Unfortunately, many people who need hearing aids are not wearing them.
According to Jamie Desjardins from the University of Texas, El Paso, “Hearing loss affects more than 9 million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans ages 45 to 64, but only about 20% of people who actually need hearing aids wear them”.
What does it matter if I don’t wear a hearing aid?
The social and emotional costs of hearing loss, including isolation, frustration and irritation are well recognized. How many times have you or the other speaker given up on a conversation or emotionally withdrawn from a situation where you couldn’t hear all the vital information?
But, if you do not wear a hearing aid your hearing loss may be robbing you of even more than you realize. The problem lies in the body’s amazing ability to adapt to challenging situations. If you are hard of hearing it becomes a struggle to understand all the words and sounds that you hear and you are forced to devote exorbitant amounts of your brain’s energy and capacity towards grasping what has been said.
Unfortunately, this diversion of energy comes at a great cost: your brain’s other cognitive functions such as memory and the ability to process information are seriously hampered. This is an issue particularly as we age because it compounds the natural decline in cognitive function.
To use an analogy, the effects of this brain drain could be likened to the impact on the body in freezing temperatures with the blood circulation being redirected from the fingers and toes to support more vital body functions. The chances of survival are increased but the extremities may be subject to tissue damage or frostbite.
Likewise, focusing so much of the brain’s resources on basic speech and sound recognition steals from the brain’s overall function. Indeed, a number of studies have demonstrated clear links between hearing loss and the development of dementia. This may be in part because “the strain of decoding sounds over the years may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia”
How does a hearing aid improve brain function?
Desjardins tested a group of hearing impaired 50—60 year olds who had never worn hearing aids. She tested their memory, information processing speed, and ability to focus attention prior to beginning the experiment. Follow-up testing demonstrated a significant improvement in cognitive function within two weeks of wearing hearing aids.
The ability of hearing aids to do more than simply improve the ability to hear also applies to young children. A recent study  shows that young hearing-impaired children fitted with hearing aids do significantly better in speech assessments the longer they have been wearing hearing aids. Again, these functional improvements promise a potential lifetime benefit for a whole raft of mental and emotional development aspects.
Childhood is a critical time for acquiring language skills and other cognitive developments but parents of hearing impaired children are often given conflicting advice about the benefits of hearing aids for young children. This is particularly true for children with mild hearing loss and who appear to be coping. As Bruce Tomblin (co-author of the study) said, “…it’s easier to be casual about it but hearing aids do in fact have an influence”.
It seems clear from these studies that early intervention with hearing aids is pivotal to improving not just your hearing but your mind’s ability to function clearly and efficiently. Making the decision to wear a hearing aid is not only a choice for your hearing ease and comfort but it’s a big tick for your long-term mental health as well.
Come and visit us at House of Hearing Clinic — we can advise you on all aspects of hearing aids and our friendly, expert fitting service is second to none.