villager article - auditory deprivation

     Articles from The Villager part 6

In order to understand what is been said to us, it does help to hear as well as possible. Where does that hearing and understanding occur? If the brain doesn’t receive most of the information, we will miss-hear or start asking others to repeat themselves. Tiny hairs within the inner ear can become damaged due to a whole number of factors. If they cannot relay the information onto nerves leading to the brain, those nerves will, to put it simply, go and find another function. This has become known as Neuroplasicity.

We know this happens within our sense of hearing because of tests that have been conducted. Speech testing involves the reading or playing of recorded lists of 10 words to one ear and then the next. Each word is one syllable and contains 3 phonemes; for example:
CHOOSE  –  CH    OO     S.         and   FISH   -    F      I      SH
Points are scored; 1 for each phoneme repeated back correctly.

Someone with a mild loss of hearing may repeat all the words correctly. If their hearing has worsened significantly over a number of years, then they will likely miss-hear and repeat back parts of the words incorrectly. Errors are still possible even when the words are played at a louder volume.

It was found that when fitted with one hearing aid, some errors were still made in repeating back the lists of words played to them. If after a period of several weeks of using a hearing aid, the test are repeated (with a different list of words) they often repeat back more words correctly. As the brain becomes re-acclimatised to sounds that have been heard in a different way due to the hearing loss, then the skill of re-learning to hear is known to be taking place. Otherwise known as Auditory Rehabiltation.

What is fascinating is what happens to the other ear? If that shows a hearing loss too, which is often the case, its ability to interpret sound can worsen further without a hearing aid. There is now routine fitting of hearing aids to both ears, privately and through the NHS.

If the hearing has worsened significantly, the improvement in understanding as well as hearing is limited. It is estimated to take one month to acclimatise to hearing aids for each year the hearing has been allowed to worsen. If you know someone who has delayed getting help for their hearing, don’t be too surprised if they are saying:
“I still can’t hear with these hearing aids!” There will probably be more improvement to come…  be a patient customer.

As Dr Thomas Stuttaford, quoted in the Times said:
“If minor degrees of deafness are neglected in their early stages, when the time comes that a hearing aid is essential, it may not be as effective.”