A common complaint from people who have gone too long without treating their hearing loss is “I can’t hear with my hearing aids.” What they likely mean is while they can “hear,” they cannot “understand” sound. “Hearing” means knowing that sound is happening; “understanding” is then knowing what that sound means. While hearing aids make sound loud enough for the ear damaged by hearing loss, how much we understand is largely determined by our speech understanding abilities.
When hearing loss is left untreated, the nerve that carries sound from the ear to the brain (as well as the part of the brain that understands speech) is not getting used or activated like it was when hearing was normal. This is called “auditory deprivation.” The longer this occurs, the harder it is to understand speech, and the less success we may have with hearing aids.
Once we lose the ability to understand speech, it does not come back immediately and may require “auditory rehab” exercises prescribed by your Audiologist. Therefore, prevention is the best cure. It is important to start wearing hearing aids as soon as hearing loss is diagnosed because hearing aids help “exercise” the hearing nerve and the brain. By preventing auditory deprivation, you can help maintain your speech understanding abilities. We can’t stop hearing loss from getting worse as we age, but we can help to make sure that we can still benefit from hearing aids. Don’t wait until it is too late.