More on Auditory Deprivation

Audiologists and otologists have known for several years that if hearing loss goes MeAudiometerFullSizeuntreated for too long, a phenomenon called auditory deprivation occurs. Auditory deprivation is a decrease in a person’s ability to understand speech clearly because of a lack of adequate auditory stimulation.

Most audiologists check their patient’s word recognition during the initial comprehensive hearing evaluation.  The word recognition test assesses the patient’s ability to repeat words presented to them at a comfortable listening level which is usually at a level high enough to compensate for their hearing impairment. When a patient scores very low on the word recognition test, it is often because of auditory deprivation. The reversibility of auditory deprivation has been a source of dispute among researchers.  However, we know that hearing aids have helped in preserving word clarity.

The first study to document auditory deprivation was in 1984 by Silman and Silverman of City University of New York. The study followed hearing impaired adults who had an equal amount of hearing loss in both ears, but only wore one hearing aid. The study found that the patients’ hearing thresholds for pure tones decreased the same amount in each ear over time, but that the ability to understand words decreased significantly in only the ear without the hearing aid. This study suggests that both ears be fit with hearing aids as soon as possible after a hearing loss is diagnosed to prevent auditory deprivation. Since that time, numerous investigations and studies worldwide have supported the initial findings.

Business group meetingThe good news is that when identified early and treated quickly, individuals with hearing loss have better success with hearing devices and preserve their having ability to understand speech for the remainder of their lifespan.  The longer a person delays seeking help, the greater their chances of having poor speech recognition.  It is very sad when someone comes into the office too late.  Their word recognition scores are very low and then they are very disappointed that speech is not clear even with new hearing aids.

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More on Auditory Deprivation

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 imageswith 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 whistleaidspeech 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.

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