As an audiologist, I often meet people who want to wait to do something about that pesky hearing loss. They often think that they can “get by” until it gets “really bad”. So what are the effects of “getting by”? Can you wait until it gets worse?

A study by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) documented the effects of hearing loss on the lives of individuals. They surveyed 2,300 people age 50 or older and 2,000 family members to determine their perceptions of the effects of hearing loss and hearing aid use.

According to the NCOA report, more than 10 million Americans over the age of 64 have significant hearing loss. However many in fact, most people with hearing loss have never sought treatment or used hearing aids for their hearing difficulties.

Non-hearing aid users report significantly more negative effects of their hearing loss. Compared to hearing aid users, non-hearing aid users were more likely to report:

  • Less social activity
  • More episodes of sadness and depression
  • More episodes of feeling tense, irritable or anxious
  • Lower income
  • Mental fatigue (from straining to understand)

Unfortunately when hearing loss is untreated it can lead to those neurons in the auditory cortex being shut down due to inactivity, this is known as Synaptic Pruning. However, more recent neuroscience research has found that a process called Neural Plasticity takes place. This is where the neurons in the auditory cortex are reassigned to another task. Or to put it simply, if you don’t use it you lose it.

When Neural Plasticity begins a patient will generally score lower on their word discrimination test. The longer this problem is ignored, the harder it is to return you to good hearing. Typically, your word recognition will get lower over time.