How Adaptive Neuroplasticity Could Help with Hearing Loss

Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, is the brain’s nervous system growing, changing, or reorganizing its neural networks in response to stimuli so that it can learn or experience. There are two main types of neuroplasticity: functional plasticity (the brain’s ability to relocate brain functions from damaged to undamaged areas) and structural plasticity (the brain’s ability to change its physical structure in response to learning). Adaptive neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt its functional and structural organization to changes. It’s the brain’s ability to learn new information or skills by adapting to new environments and situations. It has been said that adaptive neuroplasticity is especially important during early childhood since the brain is developing and can continue to develop throughout the lifespan. 

Recent studies suggest that adaptive neuroplasticity may help in the prevention of neural atrophy, which is the loss of neurons and the connections between them. Neural atrophy occurs when hearing loss occurs because the brain loses input from the ear, thus causing the brain’s auditory pathways to shrink and become less active. Remember, hearing is a brain activity, dubbed “brain hearing,” and when the brain is deprived of sound, known as auditory deprivation, the brain’s ability to process sound weakens. The parts of the brain that process hearing start working on other tasks, and if left untreated, shrinkage or neural atrophy takes place. This makes it difficult for individuals with hearing loss to understand speech, especially in noisy environments. 

However, you will be happy to hear that there are activities you can do at home to stimulate the preservation and restoration of the brain’s auditory pathways, such as doing brain games like puzzles to keep your mind sharp and auditory training like listening to music (at safe levels, of course) or practicing sound isolation (locating and recognizing the different sounds in your environment) so that you don’t lose that much needed auditory input. The stimulation of the brain’s auditory pathways can help improve individuals with hearing and understanding speech, even for those with hearing loss. For example, one study found that musicians with hearing loss had significantly more active auditory brain regions than non-musicians with hearing loss. 

Furthermore, we can predict that with the recent advances in technology, such as cochlear implants and brain-computer interfaces, adaptive neuroplasticity may be utilized to improve hearing for individuals with hearing loss. Devices such as these can send direct electrical stimulation to the brain’s auditory pathways, which may help to preserve or restore some of the brain’s auditory function.

There is more evidence that shows the brain’s ability to adapt to change. Researchers suggest that hearing can be reorganized even for those with hearing loss. Overall, adaptive neuroplasticity may help in preserving and restoring some of the brain’s auditory pathways. Though more research and investigation needs to be done on adaptive neuroplasticity and how it impacts hearing, it has already shown promising possibilities for individuals with hearing damage and improving their quality of life.