Neural plasiticity is a topic of much discussion in the care of developing children, but can adult brains change too?
Absolutely! Our brains are constantly changing to integrate new experiences and skills and to work as efficiently as possible. Adults require a little more time and effort to make new patterns and connections, but it is happening all the time!
On measures of brain function, we see changes occur to the auditory cortex (the part of the brain that makes sense out of sounds) in individuals with hearing loss. Even a slight-to-mild hearing loss is associated with noticeable changes to the brain. These changes can be seen not only in the auditory parts of the brain, but also in the motor cortex that supports balance. Managing a hearing loss from its early stages helps to support the brain’s ability to function as well as possible.
So what about after hearing loss has occurred? Many of our patients come to us after having experienced hearing difficulties for several years before seeking help. Our brains are incredible in how they are able to relearn how to use sound, even after years of doing without. The process can take anywhere from an hour to several months to settle back into hearing. The most difficult task is relearning how to tune out competing sounds and environmental noises. The longer a person goes without hearing certain sounds, and the more complex the type of hearing difficulty may be impact how long and how well a person can relearn how to use sound.
Some of our patients who adopt hearing aids require more than just time and experience with their new sound. When auditory processing is an ongoing challenge, we incorporate some type of Auditory Retraining Program to help encourage and expedite the brain’s learning process. This is typically done at home daily or several times a week to train the brain, just like exercises for your ears!
These programs are most useful for people who have trouble understanding speech even when they can hear, and folks who have significant difficulty understanding speech in noise. If you would like more information on how we could help your brain hear, give us a call!