The human brain is an incredible organ for many reasons, but especially when it comes to learning new things.
Have you ever heard the word neuroplasticity as it relates to the brain? This term means that the brain is malleable or bendable like plastic and capable of reshaping itself based on new environmental, sensory, and motor inputs.
This process of neuroplasticity occurs at all levels of the human brain and continues throughout our entire life. So, how does this relate to hearing? Well, we actually hear with our brains!
The ear is the organ that processes sound information and sends this information to the brain. The brain is the organ that makes sense of the information that it receives from the ear! When you have untreated hearing loss, incorrect information is being sent to the brain, resulting in difficulty understanding speech.
Over time, the brain relearns or reshapes itself to this misinformation resulting in difficulty understanding conversation and can even lead to changes in how you pronounce words.
People with untreated hearing loss will change how they say certain words based on what they are hearing. One of the most common that I have seen in practice is whistling with /s/ sounds. The patient is often unaware of this change in speech but is noticeable to friends and loved ones.
Appropriately fitted hearing aids help make the speech sounds audible once again, allowing the brain to reshape itself based on this new input! We often tell patients when they are wearing hearing aids for the first time or upgrading to new technology to be patient because things are going to sound different while the brain retrains itself to this new information!
While hearing aids aim to make the speech sounds audible, it should be mentioned that intervention should not stop there. Remember, we hear with our brains. Cognitive training or brain training with hearing aids should also be completed.
Research by Rebok et al. (2014) revealed that braining training “resulted in improved targeted cognitive abilities for ten years.” This suggests that brain training may help people carry out daily activities as if they were ten years younger!
Here are some brain training applications that have auditory components: Happy Neuron, Lumosity, Elevate, Peak, and Fit Brains Trainer. Many of these applications are free and can be downloaded to your smartphone or tablet.
These activities can then be streamed through your hearing aids to ensure you are retraining and reshaping your brain with correct auditory input from your hearing aids.