Hearing loss is a progressive condition, meaning it develops slowly over time. Because of this, many people don’t even realize they have hearing loss until it’s advanced to a stage that cannot be easily treated. This can have devastating impacts, including social withdrawal, feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression and even cognitive decline.
There’s another effect of untreated hearing loss many don’t know about called auditory deprivation.
What Is Auditory Deprivation?
Auditory deprivation is the result of your brain being deprived of sound, which can lead to difficulty processing sounds even after you begin wearing hearing aids.
When hearing loss is left untreated, the parts of the brain typically responsible for helping you hear become reassigned to other tasks, like visual processing, causing your brain to shrink and atrophy. This effect can happen to anybody, not just those with severe hearing impairment.
Use It or Lose It
There’s a common phrase audiologists use when talking about auditory deprivation: “Use it or lose it.”
Think of your hearing like the PTO you accrue at work. If you plan to take your family to the Georgia Aquarium [SB1] you need to do so sooner rather than later, or you risk your PTO expiring. And once it’s gone, you don’t get it back. But unlike PTO, you won’t get a warning before you reach the point of no return for your brain.
Jenilee Pulido, Au.D., of HearCare Audiology Center in Sarasota, Fla., explains, “The longer you wait to seek treatment, the [more the] brain has trouble understanding and processing information.”
In other words, while you still maybe to hear sounds just fine, especially with hearing aids, your brain will have a tough time making sense of those sounds unless you treat your loss promptly.
Is Auditory Deprivation Reversible?
It is unclear whether the effects of auditory deprivation can be reversed, though experts theorize it simply varies from person to person.
Dr. Pulido asserts that 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,” which is promising for those with untreated hearing loss.
A small study published last year found positive results: consistent hearing aid use may reverse negative changes in the brain as well as slow or stop brain shrinkage. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call ENT of Georgia today.