You know your brain can do some really amazing things. A person who’s paralyzed can sometimes learn to walk again. People who lost speech after a stroke often recover most of this function.
And memories? Science doesn’t know exactly how they work. But it’s pretty astounding that you can remember some things from when you were 4 and up to today.
With all of the amazing things the brain can do, can it help you hear better when you have hearing loss?
Let’s take a look!
Hearing Loss: The Real Silent Assassin
Imagine a ninja sneaking up on you so slowly that you can’t even tell they’re moving. That’s how most hearing loss happens.
It’s probably been stalking you since you were born.
Hearing loss isn’t caused by aging. But through the years you may have exposed your ears to loud noises, medications, unmanaged stress and lifestyle choices that caused permanent damage to the inner ear.
That’s where hearing takes place. And this part of your body can’t repair itself the way you can when you cut your finger.
How Hearing Loss Impacts the Brain
Because hearing loss happens so gradually, people get used to it. Not hearing well becomes the new normal. They make excuses about why they can’t hear.
People are low-talking or mumbling. It’s just noisy in here. You know the drill.
They may be in denial, thinking it’s not really bad enough to need treatment.
This misconception leads a lot of people to wait 7 to 10 years to get their hearing tested. During this time, here’s what’s happening in your brain.
The part of your brain responsible for hearing is getting weaker as it receives less input.
Because you’re a hearing person, as opposed to someone who was born deaf, language comprehension is intertwined with hearing in your brain.
As you start losing your hearing, you also start losing the part of your brain that understands what words mean.
This atrophy spreads to other parts of the brain impacting speech, memory and cognitive functions.
In other words, it can lead to dementia. People with untreated hearing loss decline cognitively much faster than their peers.
At the same time, you’re overworking other parts of your brain. Your brain is trying to read between the lines and decipher what people are saying.
This causes mental fatigue. The most common scenario is that a person retreats from social settings. Eventually, it leads to social isolation and depression.
All of this ages the brain much faster than it would age otherwise. A person in their 50’s may seem to be in their 60’s, 60’s in the 70’s and so on.
It’s not because of how they look. It’s because of what’s going on in the brain.
The great news is that you can stop this decline in its tracks and start reversing this downward spiral today.
How to Retrain Your Brain to Hear Better
For starters, get your hearing tested by a hearing specialist. If you need hearing aids, make arrangements to get one sooner rather than later.
You’ll be able to undo the damaging effects of hearing loss much faster with hearing aids. But don’t expect it to improve overnight.
Even with hearing aids, your brain needs to relearn what it forgot when you couldn’t hear. Some sounds may seem foreign.
This is where audio training games may help. These games are fun…but not just for fun.
In a Harvard Medical School study, they took a group of people around 70-years-old with severe hearing loss. They had them play a hearing game for 3.5 hours a week. The participant’s ability to understand words in a conversation with background noise improved by a whopping 25%.
By using the game, they learned to process sound more effectively, reducing the impact background noise had on their ability to have a conversation.
In a separate study, researchers used virtual reality (VR) to help retrain the brains of those impacted by hearing loss. They saw similar benefits.
Don’t have access to fancy games? You can still learn from this study to retrain your brain.
Work with a friend in different settings. Start in a quiet room. Then, try turning on the TV in the background. Practice focusing on your friend’s voice while ignoring the TV. As hearing and understanding become easier, go to a restaurant or other noisy place and continue to practice.
If you waited 7-10 years to get hearing aids, don’t be surprised if it takes a few months to really feel comfortable that you’re hearing at your best.
Remember: It takes time. In the study it took 3.5 hours a day for eight weeks, so be patient. Keep working at it. You’ll be so glad you did. It can make all the difference in how you hear.