You’re busy. Then there’s the pandemic. Both of which make it easy to put off your trip to a hearing specialist or your hearing aid fitting appointment. You may even be putting off ordering hearing aids in the first place. But delaying treatment for hearing loss is a significant mistake – not simply due to what it means for your ears.
Since scientists have linked cognitive decline to untreated hearing loss, it has become very clear that delaying treatment may also be bad for your brain function.
Any treatment delay is bad for your hearing
Obviously, it’s intuitive that delaying hearing loss treatment is bad for your hearing. If you’re avoiding your hearing specialist – either you’ve put off getting a screening, or you’re dragging your feet on purchasing your first pair of hearing aids – it’s likely your ears are undergoing further damage.
You are delaying these actions for several reasons. Meanwhile, you’ll keep raising the volume on your television. Although, it’s not just your television that’s the problem. It’s everything around you. If your hearing is diminished, you’ll raise the volume on every device you own. Your ears will be assaulted by this new onslaught of sound, and the damage will accumulate and accelerate.
When you wear a hearing aid, only specific frequencies are amplified. This helps slow hearing loss progression.
Delaying hearing loss treatment negatively affects cognitive function
Your brain and your hearing are intimately linked. Scientists have found overwhelming evidence that untreated hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline. What’s more, they’ve also confirmed that treating hearing loss can slow mental decline and even reverse some of it.
There are some very real negative effects associated with untreated hearing loss:
- Social isolation: As your hearing wanes, you may go out less often, seeing your friends and family less frequently. This social isolation can quickly lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. All of which, in the long term, can lead to significant cognitive decline.
- Your brain rewires itself: Your brain has a lot of processing power! Your body doesn’t like to let all that power go to waste. So when your hearing diminishes for a long time without any improvement, your brain starts rewiring itself. It takes the parts of the brain previously wired for hearing and uses them for something else (often expanded visual processing).
A friend and a foe
The rewiring of your brain is something neurologists refer to as neuroplasticity. In some ways, it’s a good thing – it gives your brain some flexibility, the ability to recover from injury, etc. But once your brain rewires itself, it’s somewhat challenging to go back to the way it previously functioned.
The good news is it’s not impossible to go back. But if your hearing has been untreated for some time, it’s likely you and your brain will have to go through an adjustment period. The sounds that come out of your hearing aid may even sound like nonsense at first.
That’s not the fault of your hearing aid – it’s because your brain has spent much less time processing sounds. Your brain simply needs some time to get used to it, which means the hearing aid will work correctly if you stick with it.
Prompt treatment is best – but better late than never
So, delaying hearing loss treatment can increase your risk of cognitive decline (up to and including dementia) and isn’t great for your hearing health. That doesn’t mean there’s no point in seeking treatment if you’ve delayed it in the past.
The same neuroplasticity that causes cognitive issues will also help you bounce back once you begin wearing hearing aids (especially if you use them as directed by your hearing specialist). Even if you’ve delayed it in the past, hearing loss treatment will still be worthwhile. In other words, you’ll enjoy practical benefits from treatment, both in the short-term and long-term.
It’s important to make an appointment with your hearing specialist as soon as possible, even if you’ve been putting it off for a while.