Make the Most of Your Hearing – (re) Train Your Brain!
By, Bettie Borton, Au.D., FAAA
We hear in our ears, but we process and understand sound in our brain. Hearing aids can help a person detect that are no longer in their range of audibility, but they don’t necessarily provide good listening skills. There is a fundamental difference between hearing and listening, and hearing devices alone do not assure good listening. We all know people who have normal hearing but are poor listeners (ok, ok, don’t reference your spouse’s selective hearing!). Hearing requires a functional auditory system that allows sound to be heard, listening requires specific effort and skill, and that can become more difficult when a hearing loss is present.
As technically advanced as modern hearing aids might be, these devices alone cannot ensure listening skills needed for communication. Listening integrates a number of skills including attending, understanding, and remembering. Unfortunately, many of these cognitive skills deteriorate as we age. This may show up as a worsening of short-term memory, or increasing difficulty understanding rapid speech. Modern hearing aids have certainly improved the quality of sound in noisy environments, but they do not eliminate background sounds. People with sensor neural hearing loss have disproportionately difficult time understanding speech in noise. In addition, research shows that a loss of hearing produces physical changes in the auditory pathways of the brain. We now know that when hearing loss deprives parts of the brain of auditory stimulation, neural pathways actually degrade. The old adage of “use it or lose it” is very true with regard to hearing loss- waiting to get hearing aids when you know you have hearing loss is problematic because your brain may not be receiving the kind of stimulation it needs to maintain speech understanding.
When people lose confidence in their ability to communicate in noisy social situations, they simply drop out and avoid those environments. While this may save them effort and embarrassment, it ultimately costs them important personal and social contact. Some individuals utilize compensatory strategies that may result in successful hearing aid use. Others, however, are not so fortunate. The need for additional therapy beyond that provided by devices alone is becoming increasingly evident, and is underscored by the fact that individuals with similar hearing loss frequently report a wide range in satisfaction and benefit from their hearing aids.
Bettie Borton, Au.D., FAAA
Doctor of Audiology
Doctors Hearing Clinic
7025 Halcyon Park, Suite A
Montgomery, AL 36117
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