The brain has a remarkable ability to adapt to change. Learning and experiences can transform the physical structure of the brain, and the brain can move functions from one area to another if one section of the brain is damaged or understimulated.
This ability to adapt is referred to as neuroplasticity. It comes into play when your brain receives new information or experiences disease or damage, among other things.
Hearing loss can also have an impact. When you have hearing loss, the areas of the brain that process sound don’t get the stimulation they are used to and may shrink or be recruited by other areas of the brain for other tasks. When this happens, the parts of the brain typically reserved for higher-level decision-making jump in to help with hearing by processing sound.
Additionally, people who struggle to hear often isolate themselves, depriving the brain of even more stimulation. This can increase the risk of cognitive decline. Previous research shows that hearing aids can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline for individuals with hearing loss.1
A new study sheds some light on how hearing aids impact the physical structures of the brain.2 Researchers tested the cognitive function of adults with mild to moderate hearing loss against adults with normal hearing. Participants were evaluated once while their hearing loss was untreated and again after six months of hearing aid use.
The baseline exam showed that participants with hearing loss had evidence of recruitment during a visual processing task. They also had poorer speech perception and worse cognitive function than those with normal hearing. After six months of regular hearing aid use, these same participants showed a reversal of recruitment, as well as improved speech perception and cognitive performance.
These findings reinforce the importance of treating hearing loss in preserving brain function. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of hearing loss, don’t leave it untreated. Schedule an appointment with our team.
1 Maharani, A., Dawes, P., et al. (2018). Longitudinal relationship between hearing aid use and cognitive function in older Americans. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29637544/
2 Glick, H. A., & Sharma, A. (2020). Cortical neuroplasticity and cognitive function in early-stage, mild-moderate hearing loss: Evidence of neurocognitive benefit from hearing aid use. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2020.00093/full