I'm 24 and for some undetermined reason, I have hearing loss exclusively from the left ear and this, from my childhood. Nothing (treatment, surgery, etc) can be done to cure my ear so I decided to see if a hearing aid could help.

My audiologist told me that little difference can be perceived from the first days of wearing the hearing aid; it's not like glasses where you can directly see the difference. However, "the most you will wear it, the most you will find it useful thanks to brain plasticity; especially at your young age". "This will wake your left ear nerves up and you'll ear more distinctly", she continued.

This should then improve my left ear performance, with or without the hearing aid. Therefore, that would mean that it can "repair" my ear through brain plasticity. Is that true/possible?

  • You may ask your doctor for references ... – Dr. belisarius May 14 '13 at 18:39
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    Are you sure you understood what your audiologist meant? Could it be that she meant the more you wear it, the better you will be able to hear with the hearing aid, rather than the better you will hear without the hearing aid? A link to someone else making the claim would greatly help here. – Oddthinking May 15 '13 at 3:50
  • Here is a site suggesting the latter. This may support the idea that it is a simple misunderstanding. – Oddthinking May 15 '13 at 3:52
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    I think OddThinking's link talks around this but basically it simply means that your brain will learn how to interpret whatever hearing you have remaining to the new sounds through experience. My wife has worn hearing aids her entire life and would only wear a specific brand. Guess what, they stopped making them. Despite the hearing tests showing that she hears better with the newer brands, she insisted she couldn't hear. After agreeing to wear the new ones for a month, everybody noticed how much better she heard. It was simply a matter of giving her brain a chance to adapt to the new sounds. – Dunk Nov 27 '13 at 16:04

Audiologist here. Sorry for the late response.

There are a couple things to consider.

  1. Have you had the hearing loss since early childhood, ie before learning to speak
  2. How much hearing do you have left in the ear (your residual hearing levels)

If you lost your hearing after learning how to speak, and you have a fair bit of residual hearing, your chances of success are very good.

If you had hearing in the bad ear while learning to speak, and you have poor residual hearing, you may be a candidate for cochlear implantation... but again if you were deaf in the ear while learning to speak, a cochlear implant may still fail

Your actual age may have very little to do with your ability to learn to process sound in your sound-deprived ear. As indicated above, it likely has more to do with when your hearing loss started and how much actual hearing you have left.

Some residual neural plasticity is observed for adults (even in the elderly), but if you've missed the critical period for language with the ear, your chances might not be good. Each ear must be stimulated with speech and language during this critical period for the neural circuitry to develop properly, and while you might here more with a hearing aid, you may never hear speech clearly in the deprived ear... depending on when you lost the hearing to begin with.

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    Welcome to Skeptics Stack Exchange! Please provide some references to support your claims. – Sklivvz Feb 4 '14 at 2:13
  • Hi there, everything you need to know to support my claims is in the link I provided .. much of what applies to cochlear implants regarding auditory deprivation and critical periods is exactly the same for hearing aids. – user17449 Feb 4 '14 at 2:45
  • I am not quite sure what you mean: the first link is to your bio, the second... to this question, and the third is to a wikipedia page. None of this links qualifies as a reference on this site. – Sklivvz Feb 4 '14 at 8:13
  • What i would like to see referenced most is the fact that brain plasticity and learning are an issue if the hearing loss is only in one ear. – Andrey Feb 7 '14 at 15:03

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