FP-7: How the Brain Adapts to Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids

Or “Prepare for the Oncoming Tsunami of Hearing Loss”


Plasticity is the ability of your brain to adapt to changes it experiences over your lifetime.  So how does the brain reconfigure itself to cope with hearing loss?  Fortunately, the brain will adapt to the loss of hearing.  Even with mild hearing loss, regions of the brain responsible for hearing become repurposed for vision or touch, senses that are likely to become more acute to compensate for the loss of hearing.  Therefore, even small degrees of hearing loss can induce the brain to compensate for decreased acoustic input.  Unfortunately, even though the brain is trying to adapt to its new reality, there are also consequences. When the portion of the brain devoted to hearing shrinks with hearing loss, the brain must devote additional resources to acoustic processing. This increased cognitive load might account for the high rates of cognitive decline among older patients who also experience hearing loss.  However, evidence shows that the sooner hearing aids are introduced, the better it is for the brain.  In this presentation we will review our present understanding of the structure and function of “deaf” auditory cortex and how auditory cortex reorganizes following the hearing aid use using psychophysical, electrophysiological, and functional imaging approaches.  Overall, we will consider how the brain adapts to life with hearing loss, and how it adapts to life with improved hearing provided by hearing aids.

Learning Objectives:

As a result of this presentation, participants will be able to:

  1. Describe fundamental changes in auditory cortex as a consequence of hearing loss
  2. Describe how the brain responds to hearing aid use
  3. Describe the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline