Hearing aids cost money, so you might ask, do you really need them? It’s common to put the expense of a medical device before the possible health problems it might prevent. The answer to the question does one need hearing aids to prevent hearing loss is a complicated one, too, because hearing itself is complex. There is a certain use or lose it factor when it comes to your ears. Consider some reasons hearing aids are an important part of maintaining your hearing, and, how not getting them comes with risks.
The Complexity of Hearing
Sound goes into the ears in waves that are amplified as they pass through to the inner ear. Some forms of hearing loss get in the way of the process. For people with this type of hearing problem, the answer is no, hearing aids won’t slow that progression. Hearing aids will improve the transmission of sound but not prevent the initial decline. Damage to the delicate mechanisms of the ears like the hair cells will happen whether you wear hearing aids or not.
Your hearing is about more than just sound levels, though. The second factor in good hearing is the interpretation of distinctive sounds like speech. Voice recognition systems on phones and computers learn more about each word they hear. In many ways, the human brain works the same way. After all, babies are not born understanding language. 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 types of hearing loss are gradual, which means you start losing sounds before you even know there is a problem. It typically starts with hard letters like S, F or T. As you listen to someone speak, the sound of those 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 speech loses its ability to understand the sounds it’s missing. That’s the use it or lose it principle. A baby understands the word momma because it’s repeated so many times. That same baby will lose the appreciation of that word if people stop saying it. After a few months, momma would be just another meaningless noise to figure out.
The point is that sound interpretation suffers without 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 job — to make sound clearer. Cheap ones do that by simply amplifying any noise. 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 an important consideration when deciding whether or not to get hearing aids — arguably more critical than the cost. Although, technically, hearing aids will not slow the progression of age-related hearing loss, having them does matter at many levels, especially when it comes to brain health and the ability to understand speech.