Will my hearing get worse if I don’t wear hearing devices?
Updated: Feb 15
When trying to answer this question, it is important to remember that we hear with both our ears and our brain. A hearing difficulty generally occurs gradually over a period of time, and you may not notice it in the early stages. This means that your hearing pathways (i.e. nerves from your ear to your brain) are not being used as much as they could be. Your brain does not receive as much stimulation as someone with normal hearing. The longer your hearing pathway goes without being stimulated, the more risk there is of nerve pathways wearing out – this is referred to as auditory deprivation.
Our bodies are very efficient and if you are not using something, your body will stop sending signals to that part. For example, if you were to keep your hand in a sling for 10 years and not use it, it would become very difficult for you to start to use the hand again. This is because your body would recognise that all of your muscles, ligaments and nerves, usually used to move your hand are not being used. So your body uses its energy on parts of the body that are actually being used and not wasting energy on parts that are not being used. Thus, when referring to hearing “use it or lose it” is an accurate description.
Research has shown that people with hearing difficulties usually wait about 7-10 years to assess their hearing. This is because hearing loss occurs gradually and is initially not noticed. Furthermore, there is a stigma attached to hearing loss, so when individuals notice hearing difficulty they put off the decision to seek help. This delay in seeking help means that you have not used your hearing pathways for about that same period of time. As a result, your brain’s ability to understand speech, especially in noisy settings, becomes increasingly difficult. When you finally decide to try hearing devices, the initial benefit is not perceived because your hearing pathway has not been used for such a long time.
The important thing to remember is that just as you would need to have regular physiotherapy, regularly do exercises and progressively increase the strength of the exercises to get your hand working again – you would need to use hearing devices first in quiet environments and then slowly work the use up to noisy environments.
A large body of medical research has proven that untreated hearing loss can lead to a deterioration of your hearing pathways, and this can increase your risk of mental decline and dementia. If you have hearing difficulty, it is vital to use hearing devices so that these pathways are continually stimulated, healthy and active. A report on prevention of dementia states that if hearing loss is treated (with hearing devices) in mid-life, it can prevent the onset of dementia (Lancet Report, 2018).