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The brain is a never-ending machine that receives, processes, and sends out countless messages every day. Sound is just a fraction of the many stimuli that the brain receives daily, but it is one of the most important. Receiving sound at normal thresholds is imperative to healthy hearing and speech processing. However, when the ear is no longer able to pick up sound at normal thresholds (due to loss of hearing sensitivity), the brain misses out on crucial frequency processing. This is the basis of what is known as auditory deprivation and is the catalyst behind the most common complaint surrounding hearing loss, “I can hear, I just can’t understand!”
While hearing and understanding undoubtedly go hand in hand, their mechanisms in the body are processed slightly differently. That is why it is possible to hear, but not quite understand. Physiologically speaking, ability to hear is dependent on the proper formation and function of ear anatomy, while understanding speech is a cognitive process dependent on the stimulation of the nerve pathways within the brain. When the structures of the ear deteriorate or get damaged and can no longer function as normal, the brain misses out on stimuli critical for speech understanding resulting in nerve pathway atrophy.
The effects of auditory deprivation can best be described with an analogy. Imagine that someone tied their arm behind their back and received little stimulation for years. Now, imagine what would happen after the arm is untied. What are the chances that it would have normal function? Slim to none. Why? Because it grew weak and atrophied from the lack of stimuli. The arm was deprived for so long of the fundamental elements that make it work properly, such as blood flow, movement, etc., that the arm deteriorated physically and functionally. The principle is the same when applied to the ear. If the arm were an ear and someone went a significant period of time without needed auditory stimulation, the nerves connecting the ear to the brain would have the same effect as the tied-up arm; they would grow weak, deteriorate, and eventually decline in normal function. This is a prime example of how hearing loss directly impacts the function of speech recognition and retention.
The longer a hearing loss is prolonged and untreated, the more likely parts of speech are to be lost. For this reason, audiologists frequently stress to patients the importance of early intervention. The best way to combat hearing loss is with hearing devices. Hearing technology is an incredible tool that can help hearing and brain function in many ways including improving clarity, speech in noise, and in some cases, speech discrimination! It is important to note, however, that the use of hearing technology alone cannot fully restore what has been lost. Based on the nature of auditory deprivation, those with poorer speech recognition scores will still have to rely on other visual cues, like lip reading to understand what is being said. However, it does not mean that hearing technology will of no benefit, indeed it will be! Aiding hearing means having a better chance at preserving remaining speech discrimination, as well as exercising brain function! With the help of a skilled audiologist, better hearing can be achieved.
For the sake of protecting speech recognition, hearing loss should always be taken seriously and addressed as early as possible. Hearing and speech preservation begins with an abundance of caution, meaning early detection and intervention are key to hearing and brain health. Even if one has a long-standing hearing loss, there is still hope! The providers at Pro Hearing have over 35 years of experience evaluating and treating hearing loss. If you or a loved one are struggling to hear or understand, call us today and let the Pro Hearing staff serve your hearing needs!
Dr. Pam Matthews, Audiologist
Pro Hearing, LLC
9409 N May Avenue and 10404 S Pennsylvania Ave
Oklahoma City, OK
NW Oklahoma City: CALL 405-775-9875
SW Oklahoma City: CALL 405-378-4165