Many individuals with hearing loss ‘put off’ getting hearing aids as long as possible. It’s not uncommon for audiologists to hear patients say “I’ll get hearing aids in a few years” or “I’ll get hearing aids when I can’t do without them.” What people may not realize is that they may be making it harder on themselves in the long run. It’s like any other health problem, the sooner you treat it the better the outcome. Here are just some of the reasons why:
One of the major contributors to whether someone is a good candidate for hearing aids has to do with their brain’s word understanding ability. Hearing aids make things louder but whether or not they sound “clear” has a lot to do with the individual’s word understanding. During a routine audiological exam, your audiologist will require you to listen to a list of words at a relatively loud level and to repeat the words to determine a word understanding score. Based on this score the audiologist will then decide whether or not hearing aids are likely to be of benefit to you. Two people with the same hearing loss may have very different word understanding abilities and therefore, have very different hearing aid experiences. If you have poor word understanding abilities, things may be loud but not necessarily clear. In this case, the benefit from hearing aids may be more limited than for someone with better word understanding. Research has shown that the a longer hearing loss goes untreated, the poorer the brain’s word understanding can become. This is not to say that if you’ve had untreated hearing loss for many years you will not succeed with hearing aids. In fact, often times your word understanding can improve with consistent hearing aid use; however, you are not doing yourself any favours by delaying the process!
This brings me to my next point which is that the younger you are, the better able you are to adjust to the hearing aids. This of course, varies on an individual basis but I firmly believe that those who get fit with hearing aids earlier in life have an easier time adjusting. This goes back to the idea of what neuroscientists call ‘brain plasticity’. If you think of a baby’s brain, it is quite ‘plastic’ or ‘fresh’; babies are able to take in information and learn things very readily. As we age, our brain’s plasticity and ‘freshness’ decreases and this can be detrimental because the brain is very important in the initial stages of getting used to hearing aids. Whether it’s the rushing of the water faucet, the signal light indicator in your car or the sound of paper rustling, your brain needs to re-learn to hear sounds that you haven’t heard in awhile. It can take 3-6 months of consistent hearing aid use for your brain to fully adjust to your new hearing and the longer you wait the more difficult this process can become.
While early detection and treatment of hearing loss is important for improving the quality of life for you and your family, it is also important for your overall health. Research has shown that untreated hearing loss has been linked to other health problems including cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and dementia. Therefore, the earlier you detect and treat your hearing loss, the better your overall health. On that note, if you think you may have hearing loss, I encourage you to be proactive and book a hearing test as soon as possible and take action if necessary. Don’t become someone who wishes they had gotten their hearing aids sooner!