As I’ve adjusted to my hearing aids over the past year, I have noticed less of a sound difference between having my hearing aids on and off. I feel like my overall hearing has gotten better, even though my hearing tests have shown a slow decline over the years. This doesn’t make sense with a progressive hearing loss. It has felt like a trick to my mind, as it has made me constantly question what is happening.
I believe I am adjusting to my hearing aids, but I also believe there are changes happening within my brain. I have noticed improved language use in my interactions and also have been healing a lot too, which I believe has improved my awareness as my brain fog is starting to disappear and my brain is becoming stronger.
Recently, I have been popping my hearing aids in and out as I have been questioning my hearing loss, but I have to be in specific situations, such as group settings and places where I have the most challenges with understanding, to notice much of a difference in the sound. It’s as if the intensity I initially felt with hearing aids has been starting to fade. I have asked myself, “Is my hearing getting better or am I just recognizing sounds better?” But my hearing aid program settings were unchanged, so I started to wonder if there were issues beyond the hearing loss itself that developed over many years.
“Is my hearing getting better or am I just recognizing sounds better?”
A lot of people would be happy about that feeling, but I was finally learning to be proud of my hearing loss. Because of that, the idea of hearing better sort of scared me and it also did not make sense to me. I already felt like nobody understood my hearing loss because there are plenty of times that I can hear without any issues, yet the many situations where I haven’t been able to hear clearly has completely shaped who I am as a person. There was a lot of internal conflict from that because I was trying to process 30 years of repressed feelings from missing out in a variety of settings, while I was just starting to learn to love this part of myself.
How does hearing loss affect the brain? Scientists and research studies have been looking at the effect of hearing loss on both children and adults.
Last year, a research team at the University of Cambridge measured brain responses of children with mild-moderate hearing loss. The research shows that the brains of younger children with hearing loss respond the same as children without hearing loss. But, when they tested an older group of children with a similar hearing loss and compared them to those with normal hearing, they found that the brains of children with mild-moderate hearing loss do not respond to sound as well. This shows there is a decline in how the brain perceives sound over a period of time for those with hearing loss.
For many people, hearing loss is a gradual process that occurs as they age. Because of this, it can be difficult for the person with the hearing loss to identify sounds as they may not realize they are not hearing some things anymore. The brain forgets these sounds over time and becomes unable to understand them.
It took me a long time to connect my life challenges with my hearing loss. I knew I had missed information in various settings, but I didn’t realize the impact my hearing loss had on my overall comprehension. Because I did not have the proper resources, I wasn’t always receiving 100% access in the language I was processing. But because my hearing loss wasn’t huge, I was still able to “get by,” as far as everyone else (including myself) was concerned.
I believe a brain fog developed over the years, which affected my overall language comprehension. I could converse on basic topics fine for the most part; but because I didn’t engage in deep conversation on topics that required a lot of listening, I didn’t sound as educated, nor was I great at understanding how to engage in conversation. (On top of my defense mechanisms, which caused me to not even try). I believe this is has been improving and in this process, I feel my brain fog disappearing.
My brain is becoming stronger through utilizing hearing aids, improved language skills and emotional healing.
When I initially started to wear my hearing aids, the new sounds I could hear were foreign to me. Because of that, I felt hyper alert and it made sounds seem scarier than they really are. I also believe after a person adjusts, their brain learns to process those sound signals and learns how to filter out the background noise, making it feel less foreign. When I put my hearing aids on, the sound intensity going into my ears is higher, but I believe over time, my brain has been starting to automatically to adjust it down.
“The brain is a dynamic, self-organizing system that develops based on reciprocal experiences between neural activity and stimulation from the environment,” according to a research paper by Phonak. When the brain is deprived of language, changes can occur in brain structure. With auditory information, this means getting the full spectrum of sound.
I believe my brain is beginning to recognize sounds and speech that I didn’t previously clearly understand before, even without the hearing aids, as I am more aware that those sounds are present. It’s as if my brain filtered out sounds that were quieter, but now the signals from the ear to the brain are changing as the hearing aids are causing me to recognize and be aware of those sounds.
“Hearing occurs in the brain because we listen and understand with the brain, not the ear,” according to Phonak.
Hearing aids have also been helping my spoken English skills become stronger. The reason is that I have been picking up more of the language through speech. I have pretty good word recognition with my hearing aids, so for the most part, I am able to understand what people are saying clearly with them. This is helping me to become better at naturally filling in the blanks and to recognize predictable speech patterns.
American Sign Language is also strengthening my language skills and visual awareness. I believe that ASL has been improving my English comprehension, as becoming bilingual has been improving my brain function. ASL is also a way for the Deaf community to get 100% access to language.
The more I have been working through the defense mechanisms caused by my hearing loss over the years, the more my anxiety has been decreasing. I started to become more educated in resources and advocacy. I now understand more about how hearing loss works and I’m no longer ashamed about it, either. Therefore, I don’t internalize what is bothering me and am open about it instead. Things that once seemed scary because I didn’t know how to respond verbally aren’t as scary anymore.
My heart doesn’t race at the idea of missing out prior to engaging in situations with other people, as I am learning to be better prepared to handle these situations. Working through all of these things has been helping me to heal.
My issues seem less dramatic the more that I heal. Sometimes, this make me feel that an outsider looking in may see my challenges as overly dramatic; but the more I experienced missing out over the years, the more intensely things felt. It’s almost as if I am going back to the mindset I had before all these issues started to noticeably affect my anxiety.
Once you accept your hearing loss, you can better understand and make sense of what is happening. When you can better understand what is happening and learn about what resources are out there, you can be a better advocate. Learning is the key to understanding and improving.
It might take some time for your brain to adjust to hearing aids. At first, it sounds and verbal cues may be difficult to understand. It’s important to work with your audiologist to ensure your hearing aids are working for you. If you don’t, things may start to sound like a mumble and over time can cause your brain to not even recognize what those sounds are anymore. When you haven’t heard sounds in a long time, they can be intense; but the more you adjust, the more natural the sound becomes.
Improvement of language skills. For a hard of hearing person, this can achieved by utilizing hearing aids in spoken language and/or communicating in ASL, but also includes taking time to improve reading comprehension.
Read more: How to learn sign language
It is good to give deaf and hard of hearing individuals all the options so they can choose what is best for them. With sign language, hearing aids other communication methods, D/deaf and hard of hearing individuals can have 100 percent access in the language they use to communicate. It is important that we have more people teaching these individuals what we know.
Read more: 11 hearing aid myths you shouldn’t believe