After undertaking examinations and audiology tests to ensure that a hearing aid is the best way to manage a person’s hearing difficulties, there will naturally be a lot of questions that will emerge, much as there are when someone is given a glasses prescription.
One of the earliest questions asked by people after learning how to fit and use their hearing aids is how often they need to wear them and what happens if they don’t.
There is a concern that much like how not wearing glasses can gradually make eyesight even weaker according to some long-term studies, not using a hearing aid might lead to hearing difficulties getting worse over time.
The answer to this is not entirely straightforward, and typically the benefits of wearing a hearing aid are so significant that there is little reason not to wear one as much as possible.
The absence of benefits aside, there is a debate surrounding the effects not wearing your hearing aid can cause, as even if the answer may technically be no, in practice it can do more damage than you might expect.
When it comes specifically to the sensitivity thresholds of your hearing of the type an audiogram would test, there is little difference whether you regularly wear a hearing aid or not. Your ability to hear will change over time at largely the same gradual rate.
This is where the complexities of the question arise, as whilst not wearing a hearing aid does not affect your hearing per se, it can affect your ability to process sound and lead to a process known as auditory deprivation.
The process of hearing is not only undertaken by the ears but by parts of your brain that translate the sound data the auditory nerve transmits into understandable speech, recognise sounds and process music, amongst the many other things the brain does with audio.
As with most other parts of the brain, it thrives through constant stimulation, and the more sounds that are heard, the more the auditory processing centre of the brain works.
However, if it is not being used, these parts of the brain will lose that sensitivity to audio, and according to some studies, potentially even switch focus from audio processing to video processing, meaning that the brain struggles to understand certain types of sounds.
This makes it hard to understand and recognise speech, as well as other cognitive consequences that have been associated with hearing loss, such as issues with balance, memory and a link to a greater risk of dementia later in life.
Hearing aids can help with this because they provide the brain with enough stimulation to keep these parts of the brain from functioning as they should be.
This is why, when someone starts to use a hearing aid that works for them, they not only notice that sounds are not as muffled or as quiet as they used to be, but that speech is clearer and it takes less energy to understand and keep hold of a conversation.