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Most audiologists check their patient’s word recognition during the initial comprehensive hearing evaluation. The word recognition test assesses the patient’s ability to repeat words presented to them at a comfortable listening level which is usually at a level high enough to compensate for their hearing impairment. When a patient scores very low on the word recognition test, it is often because of auditory deprivation. The reversibility of auditory deprivation has been a source of dispute among researchers. However, we know that hearing aids have helped in preserving word clarity.

The first study to document auditory deprivation was in 1984 by Silman and Silverman of City University of New York. The study followed hearing impaired adults who had an equal amount of hearing loss in both ears, but only wore one hearing aid. The study found that the patients’ hearing thresholds for pure tones decreased the same amount in each ear over time, but that the ability to understand words decreased significantly in only the ear without the hearing aid. This study suggests that both ears be fit with hearing aids as soon as possible after a hearing loss is diagnosed to prevent auditory deprivation. Since that time, numerous investigations and studies worldwide have supported the initial findings.

Auditory deprivation describes a significant decrease in an unaided ear’s ability to recognize speech and a decrease in general hearing ability due to a lack of auditory stimulation. In other words, the ability of the auditory system to process speech declines due to lack of stimulation (hearing loss). With auditory deprivation, the brain gradually loses some of its auditory processing ability which would affect one’s general hearing ability.

Research has shown consistently that when there is a hearing loss in both ears and only one ear is fit with a hearing aid, the auditory nerve in the unaided ear can atrophy, resulting in auditory deprivation. This asymmetrical setup causes one ear to take on more of the listening activity than the other. This results in the weakening of the unaided ear over time. This deprivation results in a situation where the auditory pathways and areas in the brain are ‘starved’ of sound, and atrophy occurs.

The key to avoid auditory deprivation and an adverse affect on your hearing is to keep the auditory system active and not to let the parts of the auditory system active and not to let the parts of the auditory system stay dormant. The sooner you activate these centres of the auditory system and the brain when you first notice hearing loss, the greater the success you will have with hearing.

It is important to ensure that you’re hearing/ auditory system is stimulated and not deprived of sound. See one of our professionals if you suspect a hearing loss.