Training and Straining

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I take my ears on and off all the time in my day-to-day life, and Beverly commented something that hit home:

The key to hearing better longer is to keep your auditory nerves and brain active and NOT let them atrophy. Through the use of hearing aids you’ll enjoy a better quality of hearing longer. Put them in and forget about them.

It reminded me of my father’s first time with glasses. Something like twenty years ago, he had to begin to wear glasses; at the normal age when eyes become less flexible and arms need to be longer and longer because you can’t adjust your eyesight the way you did when you were younger.

His first reaction was “Oh wow, it’s better” and then went on to “Actually no, wait now, we have to talk it through again”. Ring any bells?

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After a few months, he could not accommodate his sight as easily as before, he said. He intuited that because of his glasses, his eyes had become lazy.

Actually, I think that what was happening was this: before knowing about his presbyopia, he had been unconsciously straining all the time to try and keep things he was looking at as sharp as possible. My hypothesis was that now that he was wearing glasses, his eyes and brain decided to “rely on the clutches”: it was getting harder and harder for him to see correctly without his glasses.

Recently I have noticed the same thing about my hearing aids: without them (and sometimes with them) I’m less prone to understanding/reconstructing a message than I was before I was fitted. For example, I get grumpy (ask the lady) when people around me half-pronounce their sentences and the guessing has replaced the actual hearing strain.

I would venture to say that my ears and/or brain have started to understand how useful the hearing aids are. My ears are becoming lazy, my father would say. Benefitting from the aids and straining less is what I think I’m experiencing.

But (here’s the twist), Stephanie found an article that says that the brain learns to compensate by relying on other senses when one doesn’t work so well. She also says this in her post Depending on my Hearing Aids:

My brain is “less trained” in compensating my hearing loss. I have less practice. And so, when I do have to compensate like I used to, I struggle much more.

This is a bit of a shock, because I thought it was a matter of relaxing and enjoying the help, so to speak. But no: there seem to be adjustments in the brain to cope with the loss. Would this mean that the more we use help, the lazier our brain becomes? Does this still mean that the sooner we’re fitted, the better (considering we’re still relying on our ears to do their job)? I have no answer yet.

2 thoughts on “Training and Straining”

  1. One thing I found really interesting in that article I showed you is that it corroborates what Beverly says: if you don’t use those hearing areas of your brain, they will be assigned to other functions and therefore unavailable for hearing. So, we want to keep on using them as much as possible to avoid a vicious circle. At least, that’s how I understand it.

    I’m not too sure I agree with your crutches analogy and your conclusion. Crutches are something which help you get along, but badly. And hopefully you will heal and not need them any more. They are a temporary help.

    That’s not how it works with hearing loss. Our hearing is gone — that part of it that we have lost. Though I hate the word (I mentioned it to you about the French “prothèses auditives”) our hearing aids are more like prosthetics. If your foot was missing and you learned to walk well with a prosthetic foot, better than you would hobbling along without the prosthetic foot, would you look at the foot and think “heck, I’m becoming lazy, I’m not performing as well without it?”

    Our hearing aids allow us to hear more than we would without them, and as you say very well, with less strain and tiredness.

    So yes, relax and enjoy the help. Your brain is not becoming lazy, it’s finally being allowed to function without being on constant overdrive to compensate for the sounds that are not reaching your ears.

    I say that my brain has now realised what the normal effort to hear something should be like, and it goes on strike and refuses to do the extra work when I ask it to work miracles.

  2. I say that my brain has now realised what the normal effort to hear something should be like, and it goes on strike and refuses to do the extra work when I ask it to work miracles.

    It’s very true, and a much better way of looking at things.

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