When the hearing nerves and the areas of the brain responsible for hearing are deprived of sound, they atrophy or weaken. This can make recovery from hearing loss with hearing aids more difficult because the individual’s ability to understand speech has deteriorated. In other words, the brain gradually loses some of its information processing ability. The term used by hearing professionals to describe this problem is auditory deprivation.
Several investigations have shown that people who wear only one hearing aid experience a reduction in their ability to understand speech in the ear that has not been stimulated with an aid. As stated above, the ability of the auditory system to process speech declines due to a lack of stimulation.
Many people with hearing impairment wait many years before they try hearing aids. They have gone for a long time without stimulation to either ear, and their ability to understand speech in both ears is often poor. Hearing aids will make sound louder, but speech may not be clear because of auditory deprivation. This is very frustrating for the patient and the audiologist. So often I have tested patients and I have thought to myself, “If only this patient would have come in earlier!”
There are many benefits to wearing two hearing aids. Two aids are necessary for sound localization and hearing in noise. However, another benefit of wearing two hearing aids (binaural amplification) is to reduce the effects of auditory deprivation. The key to hearing better longer is to keep the auditory neurons active and NOT let them atrophy. Through the use of hearing aids, when you first notice hearing loss, you’ll enjoy a better quality of hearing longer. The old expression “use it or lose it” seems to apply to our ability to hear and understand speech.