In the past year, the phrase “staying in” has taken on a new meaning. The general public was encouraged to stay in their homes to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a recommendation that stayed in effect for months. For some, their duration of the “stay-at-home” orders were spent with immediate family. For others, it brought on months of isolation. But for many individuals who are hearing aid users, it left them wondering: what is the point of wearing my hearing aids if I am just sitting at home?
If you were to ask your hearing care professional how often you should wear your hearing aids, a common response would be in turn, “you should wear your hearing aids during all waking hours.” It is recommended that individuals with hearing aids wear their devices shortly after starting their day and take them out before going to sleep, a seemingly straightforward and simple concept. However, many hearing aid users found that they were not as inclined to consistently wear their hearing aids (to be consistent in terminology) throughout quarantine. Most rationalized that there was no reason to wear their hearing aids if they are just sitting at home, a considerable change from the hustle and bustle of their previous routines. Yet, research shows (or experts state) that there are multiple benefits to consistently wearing these devices, even in a mild environment like your home.
Audiologist Dr. Robert Martin from The Hearing Journal compares using hearing aids to exercising muscles. He explains that wearing hearing aids consistently not only allows you to hear better but allows you to listen more effectively. Hearing aids amplify sound based on an individual’s unique hearing loss. Initially, the hearing aid user may find that sound to be unnatural and strange, not what they are typically used to. With regular hearing aid use, that sound becomes more natural and starts to give the person more of that benefit they were looking for. When hearing aids are worn intermittently, you are not exercising the processing centers of your brain, and sound will continue to feel unnatural. Consistency is key in making those sounds more natural. According to Dr. Anu Sharma, research has found that sound is processed in unused parts of the brain, instead of the auditory cortex, after auditory deprivation. When sound is not processed in the auditory cortex, the listener may possibly find that it is far more taxing and exhausting to try to listen and understand the sound that they hear. When the listener begins to wear their hearing aids consistently, there is more auditory input, and the brain begins to change so sound is processed in the auditory cortex. Simply put, your brain needs sound.
Whether you live alone with mild background noise or have family that puts your ears to the test, the takeaway from today is that you should wear your hearing aids all the time. Give your brain the sound it needs, and make your hearing aids a part of your daily routine.
Martin, Robert L. “‘Wear Your Hearing Aids or Your Brain Will Rust.’” The Hearing Journal,
vol. 57, no. 1, 2004, p. 46., doi:10.1097/01.hj.0000292405.09805.5a.
Beck DL. How might the brain change when we reintroduce sound? Interview with Anu Sharma,
PhD. Hearing Review. 2020;27(4)[April]. In press