A hearing aid is an investment, but is it a necessary one for ear health? People do tend to factor cost into the hearing aid equation instead of focusing on the health issues involved in hearing loss. The answer to this question is complicated, though, because hearing is a very diverse sense. There is a certain use or lose it factor when it comes to your ears. Consider why hearing aids are essential to ear health, and, how not wearing them comes with risks.
The Complexity of Hearing
Sound enters the ear canal is waves and is amplified as it travels to the inner ear. Some kinds of hearing loss interfere with that process. In this way, the answer to the question of ear health and hearing aids is no. Hearing aids do not slow the process of gradual hearing loss as it relates to the transmission of sound. Damage to vital elements of hearing like the hair cells will happen whether you wear hearing aids or not.
Your hearing is about more than just sound levels, though. Another critical factor in effective hearing is how you interpret of distinctive sounds like speech. Voice recognition systems on mobile devices and computers improve with each word you say. In many ways, the human brain does the same thing. After all, newborns don’t understand language right away. The learn words through listening to repetition. The more often they hear a word, the more likely they are to recognize it. That’s also why not having hearing aids matters when it comes to hearing loss.
The Concept of Use It or Lose It
Most forms of hearing loss are gradual, in other words, you start losing some sounds before you even know there is a problem. Hearing loss tends to start with hard letters like S, F or T. As you listen to words, the sound of hard letters drops off. What was once the word stop might now sound more like op or something close to it.
Over time, the nerve that recognizes these different words loses its ability to understand them because certain sounds are missing. That’s how the use it or lose it principle works. An infant understands the word mommy only after it’s repeated many times. That same child will lose the appreciation of the word if people stop saying it. After a few months, mommy would be just another meaningless noise to figure out.
The point is that sound interpretation suffers without the right stimulation. That interpretation is done by the auditory cortex in the brain, and, like most things related to brain function, it needs exercise. Brain training exercise is quite popular right now. Their goal is to work the part of the brain responsible for creating short-term memory because keeping it fit helps help fight off dementia. Sound interpretation works the same way.
The Benefit of Hearing Aids
Hearing aids have one role to play — they make sound clearer. Poor quality ones do that by simply making the sound louder. Better quality hearing aids also filter out background noises so that you can identify sounds more efficiently. What this does for your brain is reintroduce it to those elements of speech you’ve been missing and help you relearn them.
The brain benefit goes beyond just improving your ability to understand speech, though. The stress on the brain that comes with hearing loss causes damage to other regions like short-term memory. A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins found that individuals with even a minor hearing loss had an increased risk of dementia. Those with a significant hearing deficit are five times more likely to develop it.
Health is a critical consideration when determining whether or not to get hearing aids or — probably more so than cost. Although, in theory, hearing aids will not slow the progression of age-related hearing loss, having them is important r at many levels, especially when it comes to brain health and the ability to understand speech.