Our hearing is like Legos.
The fun lies in creating, dismantling, and then creating anew. This provides hours of fascination for young and old alike, and accounts for the enduring popularity of these toys.
Why the Brain is like Legos
Did you know our hearing, or more accurately, our brain, is just like Legos? The brain has the ability to form and reform neural pathways. Far from being static, the brain is constantly tweaking and updating. Not only does the brain make fine adjustments, but it dismantles what it no longer needs and changes its function to put it to better use. Sounds a lot like Lego, doesn’t it?
Applying this to Hearing
So what relevance has this to hearing?
To understand what happens when we suffer from hearing loss, let’s consider a scientific study looking at the brains of professional drivers. Scientists compared the brain usage of London bus drivers with that of London taxi drivers.
They found that certain areas of the brain were much larger in the taxi drivers than the bus drivers. This was because the former needed to store up a mental atlas of road maps to accommodate any destination their paying client might ask for. However, the bus drivers travelled on set routes and didn’t need this degree of sophistication. What the taxi drivers needed was a “compensatory mechanism” to account for all possible route requests.
Hearing loss is like that taxi driver. When you don’t have clear hearing, the brain has to work much harder and compare all possible options in order to make sense of sound. In other words, interpreting speech is not straightforward and involves any number of possibilities in order to arrive at the right destination. Comparing all those possibilities also takes time, which is why you may sometimes feel you are struggling to keep up with a conversation.
Of course the obvious answer to hearing loss is to amplify sound and give the brain less work to do. This is indeed what a hearing aid does, but the story doesn’t end there.
When your brain is reintroduced to all manner of sounds including background noise, it can experience “flooding.” The dismantled the pathways in the brain that filtered out background noise from speech must rebuild them to consider the different options for word identification.
Just like Lego, the brain must now dismantle one skill set and rebuild another. Being fitted with a hearing aid is about so much more than sound amplification. To help you adjust and relearn old skills, your audiologist is best suited to tutor you. Ask about the LACE program, which stands for Listening and Communication Enhancement. This involves your audiologist giving you hearing exercise which assists the brain to relearn old skills in order to ignore background nose and pick out the speech.