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The early signs of hearing loss are easy to miss. Hearing loss is often a gradual process. You might not notice subtle changes in your hearing, like having a slightly harder time hearing on the phone or turning up the volume on the TV. However, over time these changes become more noticeable, and they will start to impact your health.
The problem with untreated hearing loss is that these changes in hearing have a profound impact on your brain. Over time, the auditory regions of your brain can start to atrophy or shrink. This means that if you have untreated hearing loss, it can cause brain shrinkage.
One way this happens is through auditory deprivation. When you have hearing loss, your ears aren’t sending signals to the brain about all the sounds around you. Your brain has an incomplete picture of the soundscape, and your brain is deprived of certain sounds. For example, it’s common to lose hearing in higher registers. This means that your brain never even gets signals about sounds that are high-pitched.
Over time, the cells in the auditory region responsible for “hearing” these sounds may atrophy, or even be assigned to other tasks. When this happens, you’ll permanently lose the ability to hear those sounds, even after you treat your hearing loss with hearing aids.
What Causes Auditory Deprivation?
One of the most common causes of auditory deprivation is untreated hearing loss. If you’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss, but opt not to get hearing aids, you risk auditory deprivation. The longer you live with untreated hearing loss, the higher your risk will be of brain atrophy or cell death in the brain.
Auditory deprivation can also happen if you have hearing loss in both ears, but you only wear one hearing aid. The side that’s getting help from the hearing aid stays strong, but the other side may continue to weaken or experience cell death.
Untreated Hearing Loss is Bad for Your Brain
Hearing doesn’t actually happen in the ears, it happens in the brain. The cells in the ears send signals to the brain, but it is the auditory regions of the brain that translate these signals into the sounds that we perceive.
The auditory centers in your brain need signals from the ears to stay healthy. When you have hearing loss, certain cells in the ears don’t send any signals to the brain. These gaps cause hearing loss. But it’s also bad for your brain. Brain cells need stimulation to stay healthy.
Hearing Loss Leads to Changes in Brain Function
When certain cells in the brain aren’t activated, you may face a tough case of using it or losing it. When these cells aren’t being used, it greatly increases the risk of cell death or brain shrinkage. The longer you live with hearing loss, the worse these effects can be. And even after you treat hearing loss, you may not be able to hear all the sounds around you, because the auditory regions of the brain can’t process those sounds anymore.
Treating Hearing Loss Supports Your Brain
The good news is that treating hearing loss can support your brain. Treating mild hearing loss will help your ears pick up more of the sounds around you, sending more signals to the brain. the auditory regions of the brain won’t face as much auditory deprivation and you’ll lower your risk of brain shrinkage and cognitive decline.
And if you have moderate hearing loss, treating hearing loss as soon as possible will prevent further brain damage. Treating hearing loss can slow cognitive decline and help your brain stay active and healthy.
Prevent Auditory Deprivation
You can prevent auditory deprivation by treating hearing loss as soon as you’re diagnosed with hearing loss. Waiting until your hearing loss gets worse can cause irreversible damage to your brain. Schedule a hearing test and find out more about your hearing health. We recommend that adults get a hearing test every few years, while adults over 50 should book a hearing test every two to three years.
Ready for hearing aids? Work with our hearing health specialists to find the hearing aids that perfectly match your lifestyle and hearing needs. Treating hearing loss early can make all the difference, so come see us today.