Have you ever heard the phrase, “Use it or lose it?” It turns out, this phrase may be applicable to hearing loss, hearing aid use, and one’s ability to understand speech. 

Individuals with untreated hearing loss may be at risk for auditory deprivation, or the lack of auditory stimulation to the brain.

Auditory deprivation occurs when the brain, specifically the auditory cortex, is not activated due to hearing loss. Research shows that deprivation of sound can lead to a decrease in the ability to decode and understand speech over time.

One study compared individuals who have hearing loss and wear hearing aids to those with hearing loss who do not wear hearing aids. The researchers found that those who had hearing loss but did not wear hearing aids showed a decline in their ability to understand speech over a period of two years, whereas their peers who wore hearing aids did not experience a decrease in speech understanding (Silverman et al., 2006).

Another study showed that individuals who had hearing loss in both ears but only wore one hearing aid experienced a decrease in speech understanding in the unaided ear (Arlinger 2003).

These findings indicate that the use of hearing aids may help preserve speech understanding over time, whereas waiting to treat hearing loss may result in a reduction in speech understanding.

In addition to a decrease in speech understanding, auditory deprivation through untreated hearing loss may have other socio-emotional consequences including social withdrawal, reduced emotional well-being, and depression. Untreated hearing loss is also associated with a decline in overall physical health and cognition (Cherko et al., 2016).

The good news is that early treatment of hearing loss can allow the brain access to the sounds it was missing, improve quality of life, and reduce the risk for further auditory deprivation. If you are beginning to experience any difficulty communicating with others, asking for repetitions, or notice that the television is at a louder volume than it used to be, schedule an appointment with us so we can help give you access to the sounds you are missing.