Protect your word recognition ability: avoid sensory deprivation.

August 15, 2008 by Michelle Fournier

Protect your word recognition ability: avoid sensory deprivation.

Whenever we talk about hearing aids, we also talk about hearing health! Is that surprising? Not at all, not when we consider the impact of a hearing loss on our daily lives.

Psychological, social, and physical impact

Social isolation, reluctance to ask for repetitions, fear of admitting, and failing to accept one’s hearing handicap are just a few examples of the issues that  people with hearing loss have to deal with. However, it’s not just about inconvenience, from a psychological point of view. More and more often, it’s about a very real physical phenomenon known as sensory deprivation.

As a result of a hearing loss, the lack of stimulation of the inner ear’s hair cells can lead to a reduction in the ability to understand speech. This means that information will not be conveyed correctly to the brain. As a result, after some years of deprivation, the brain doesn’t recognize sounds as well. It’s like not practicing a foreign language for 5, 10 or 15 years, and then noticing that you no longer  “have an ear” for understanding that language.

People who have a hearing loss greatly underestimate their hearing difficulties and believe that they can get by without hearing aids. This is why, on average, people who are having hearing difficulties wait seven years before seeking professional help. This delay can have a negative impact on how well the person adjusts to wearing hearing aids.

Learning to listen again

The earlier the better. The sooner the hearing aid is obtained, the faster and easier the readjustment to sound becomes. Once optimally stimulated, the ear can quickly regain its full potential. The hearing-impaired person also enjoys a more immediate improvement in his or her quality of life.

First-time hearing aid users will naturally experience a period of adjustment to their improved hearing. Some people fear this stage, concerned that getting used to hearing well again will be a big challenge, and dreading being exposed to sounds that are too loud or are unwanted. However, getting used to wearing hearing aids is a process that is unique and progressive, for each person. The adjustment period varies from person to person as a function of each person’s own -capacity to adjust, their type of hearing loss, and according to how long they’ve had the hearing loss. Hearing rehabilitation benefits from regular daily, rather than occasional, use of hearing aids. Some follow-up visits to the audioprosthetist will be necessary to refine the hearing aid settings to address perceptual changes occurring during the user’s adjustment period.

Technological changes synonymous with greater satisfaction

While hearing aid use will never return normal hearing to a person, a recent study demonstrated increased levels of satisfaction in current hearing aid users when compared with those surveyed in 2004*. Technological changes, including miniaturization, improved sound quality and performance were key factors in the improved satisfaction ratings.

People who are hard of hearing are becoming more conscious and concerned about the important role of hearing health in their everyday lives, and its importance in maintaining their quality of life. The sooner a person deals with his or her hearing loss, the sooner he or she will be able to enjoy the pleasure of conversing with friends and family, hearing the birds sing, and listening to music again. It’s a great gift to offer to you and your social circle. For more information, please don’t hesitate to consult an audioprosthetist who practices in one of Lobe Santé auditive et communication’s multidisciplinary clinics.

As time passes and the hearing loss leads to lack of stimulation of the hair cells, decreased ability to understand speech can result. This phenomenon is especially noticeable when a person with a hearing loss in each ear decides to wear a hearing aid on only one of them, leaving the other without optimal auditory stimulation (1,2).
*Kochkin S. “MarkeTrak VIII: Consumer satisfaction with hearing aids is slowly increasing”, Hearing Journal (2010); 63 (5), 19-27.
(1) Mueller G.H. and Hall J.W. “Audiologists’ Desk Reference Volume II:  Audiologic Management, Rehabilitation and Terminology”, San Diego; Singular Publishing Group (1998).
(2) Dillon H. “Hearing Aids: Binaural and bilateral considerations in hearing aid fittings”, New York; Thieme (2001).