Hearing Loss and Auditory Deprivation
On average, it takes between 7 and 10 years before people act on a known or suspected hearing loss. A lot can happen to the hearing nerves and to the hearing center in the brain during that time. Due to a lack of sound stimulation, the systems become sluggish, weaken and ultimately atrophy. They fall prey to auditory deprivation or sound starvation.
Get help – the earlier the better
Time spent in denial regarding one’s hearing status is time wasted. The first step is to seek a professional opinion on the nature and possible cause(s) of the hearing challenges and to be professionally tested. Where is the damage? What kind of damage is it? Might something be fixable? What kind of technology will be helpful and why? This is the information that people need in order to make decisions about their options.
Reconditioning what has weakened
Hearing loss usually affects both ears. Many people limp along trying to hear as best they can while relying on their stronger ear to do the job. This puts undue stress on that better ear and it weakens further and faster ─ while its partner also continues to decline. There is no benefit for either ear and hearing becomes worse.
Price concerns are a major reason why patients might consider treating only one ear with a hearing aid. However, specialists say that treating both ears with hearing aids is the preferred choice. Treating both ears provides the much-needed balanced sound input without stressing one ear over the other. This allows for the best possible hearing results and can help prevent further deterioration.
Hearing aids reshape the sound environment and help recondition hearing systems that have fallen into disuse due to lack of sound stimulation. However, the longer hearing loss goes unchecked the more challenging and the lengthier the reconditioning process becomes. So, the time to act is now.
Improving quality of life
Although hearing aids do not fix hearing loss, it is hoped that they will re-engage the sound-deprived hearing nerve and brain centers while improving quality of life. The cooperation of an alert auditory system is very much needed in order to keep learning, to form new memories and to stay active in social and professional networks. Some of the consequences of longstanding, untreated hearing loss and auditory deprivation are depression and social isolation. The erosion and dissolution of social contacts is one of the factors that researchers feel might tie untreated hearing loss to the development of dementia.
In the end, auditory deprivation with its potentially dismal consequences is a major reason not to ignore or deny hearing loss but to seek help instead – the earlier the better. This is one example where good things do not come to those who wait.
To learn about ears and hearing, please see my book on hearing loss: What Did You Say? An Unexpected Journey into the World of Hearing Loss, now in its second updated edition. Sharing my story and what I had to learn the hard way.