We don’t hear with our ears; we hear with our brain. Hearing aids can help a person detect softer sounds, but they don’t necessarily provide good listening skills. There is a fundamental difference between hearing and listening.Normalhearing alone does not assure that one is a good listener. We all know people who have normal hearing but are pretty poor listeners. Conversely, many hearing- impaired individuals are wonderful listeners. While hearing is a physical function that requires a healthy auditory system, listening is a skill that requires effort, and when a hearing loss is present, that effort becomes particularly difficult.

Good listening skills are one of the components essential for effective communication. As technically advanced as modern hearing aids might be, they alone cannot produce the listening skills needed for communication. There are a number of reasons for this.  For example, to be a good listener, one must integrate a number of skills including attending, understanding, and remembering. Unfortunately, many of these cognitive skills deteriorate as we age. This may show up as a worsening of short-term memory, or increasing difficulty understanding rapid speech.

Modern hearing aids have certainly improved the quality of sound in noisy environments, but they do not completely eliminate background sounds. People with hearing loss have particularly great difficulty understanding speech in noise. In addition, we now have evidence that a hearing loss literally produces physical, neuroplastic changes in the brain as a result of parts of the brain not being utilized. Thus, the old adage of “use it or lose it” applies to listening because the hearing impaired person’s brain may not be receiving the kind of stimulation it needs to maintain its proper function.