Every person with hearing loss is unique. You are unique! No two people are alike and no two hearing losses are alike.

I remember on several occasions having two patients with the same identical hearing losses when looking at their audiograms. I fit both of these patients with the same advantaged hearing technology. One person would love his hearing instruments and report back that he was doing so much better in noisy social situations. (Do you remember those days!?!) The second patient would be unhappy with his new hearing aids, claiming that he still couldn’t follow the conversation in noisy places. No matter what adjustments I made, I could not satisfy the second patient. Maybe you can relate to this?

Exercise machines for your ears and brain
Hearing instruments are much like exercise machines for both your ears and your brain. Hearing aids actually stimulate and enhance what is left of the tiny, nerve-endings, deep inside your inner ear. But they also stimulate the auditory parts of your brain! The sooner you start stimulating what’s left of your hearing, the better that is for you, your cognitive processing, your emotional well-being, and your relationships.

Hearing aids are wonderful devices that help you hear better but they do not automatically give us good listening skills. You see, we hear with our ears but we listen with our brain. Effective listening involves complex, cognitive processing of the brain. As we age, the ability to follow conversations can be compromised by hearing loss.

No two brains are alike
One brain may have the ability to separate the noise from the speech you want to listen to, whereas another brain simply lumps the noise and speech together, making it difficult to follow a conversation in noise. This is true of all brains whether you have hearing loss or not. Everyone processes sound and speech in their own unique way. So how can you train your brain to better use these processing abilities (whether you wear hearing aids or not, whether you have a hearing loss or not)?

Based on the last several years of neuroscience, the brain is no longer considered an organ that naturally deteriorates as we age. It can but it does not have to deteriorate. In fact, neuroscientists are now referring to the brain as having plasticity, and is able to rewire and develop with treatment! So what does that have to do with hearing loss and hearing aids? Everything!

Several years ago, Dr. Robert Sweetow, Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of California, San Francisco, did a lot of research on the importance of aural rehabilitation when you have hearing loss. He said, “It should be reinforced as this point that better hearing is not a passive process where you simply let the hearing aids do all the work; success does not rest solely on the hearing aids and the expertise of the hearing healthcare professional. To optimize your hearing aid experience, you must become an active participant.”

Betty Vosters Kemp of Avalon Hearing goes further and declares
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our social lives have been turned upside down. So many of the activities we used to do that helped us practice the art of listening are not part of our daily lives, for now. When I am not around people for a couple of days, I get passive, maybe even lazy, about my listening. It’s good to turn everything off and be still but there comes a point when too much turning off, makes my brain and thought processing mussy. (That’s not a scientific term!) I literally have to make the effort needed to start truly listening again.

I see our brains and minds getting more passive during the pandemic
I have the privilege of talking with several people every day during the week. So many of my patients are noticing how their minds aren’t as sharp as they used to be. They are noticing this a lot more now that they are not socializing in their normal ways.

In my next Take 2 on Tuesdays, I will share ways that you can exercise your brain and ears while at home, sheltering in place. But in the meantime, I’ll give you one simple form of “physical therapy” for your ears and your brain. Do this ten minutes per day. And if you are really committed, do it twice a day!

Take the Avalon Challenge!
This week, would you find something to read (a book, a magazine, the newspaper, or this Take 2 article) and read it out loud. But here’s the catch! Turn on the television (or radio) and play it at a volume that you would expect in a noisy restaurant. While that ‘noise’ plays in the background, pay close attention to what you are reading out loud. You’ll both hear and see the words which is like physical therapy for your ears and your brain! Here’s the second challenging part – do this for 10 minutes. Later in the day, do it again. You are literally training your brain to listen to what you want to hear instead of the background noise of the TV.

Next week when I share other tools and tricks that act like physical therapy for your ears and brain, take on reading out loud to yourself every day. I am giving your permission to talk to yourself, and you’re not crazy for doing so!

Yours for CONNECTED Hearing & Living,

💙Betty Vosters-Kemp, BC-HIS
Owner, Avalon Hearing Aid Centers, Inc.
Board Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist

P.S. If you are really struggling with this ‘physical therapy exercise’, you may need an updated hearing test and reprogramming of your hearing aids. Please call (916) 235-9771 to make your appointment this week! We are practicing social distancing and have a safe place for you to come and be cared for!