Experts recommend seeking treatment for your hearing loss at the first sign of trouble. In addition to saving you years of frustration asking others to repeat themselves or missing out on important pieces of information, this advice can protect your brain from damage. The simple truth is untreated hearing loss is bad for your brain.
Understanding Brain Atrophy and Auditory Deprivation
The process of hearing involves your ears picking up sounds, converting those soundwaves into electrical impulses and sending those to the brain via the auditory nerve to be interpreted as meaningful. With hearing loss, less and less sound information is collected and sent through to the brain. This is known as auditory deprivation.
Over time, as fewer electrical impulses reach the brain, the portion that is responsible for auditory processing can shrink or atrophy from lack of use. Dr. Jenilee Pulido, a Florida audiologist and Fellow with the American Academy of Audiology explains, “Auditory deprivation is when the brain has difficulty understanding and processing information due to the lack of stimulation.”
When the brain does not receive enough auditory information, that part of the brain may be reassigned to another role. According to a 2014 peer-reviewed journal article, the portion of the brain responsible for processing sound can switch to visual processing.
Are These Brain Changes Permanent?
Experts are unsure if auditory deprivation leads to permanent changes in the brain. They do agree that “the longer you wait to seek treatment, the [more the] brain has trouble understanding and processing information,” says Pulido. This means that even though you may be able to hear words, the brain may still have trouble processing the information.
Pulido asserts there is some good news: the “brain is very [flexible] and it can make a lot of changes—once it’s being stimulated, new connections can form so that it can understand more information.” It is never too late to seek treatment.
To learn more about the dangers of untreated hearing loss or to schedule an appointment with an experienced audiologist to start treatment, contact Bountiful Hearing Center today.