How to Prevent Auditory Deprivation

What is Auditory Deprivation?

Wear your hearing aids or your brain will rust!” (Robert Martin, PhD, Hearing Journal, January 2004)

When I first read this 10 years ago, I thought it was funny at first. But, after thinking about it, it’s true. If you need hearing aids and you don’t wear them, YOUR BRAIN WILL RUST! It’s called Auditory Deprivation – when the brain gradually loses some of its abilty to process information from the unaided ear(s) due to continued lack of auditory stimulation.

The most common causes for auditory deprivation are:

  1. When a person needs hearing aids and chooses not to purchase or wear them. According to Dr. Mark Welch (an Ear, Nose and Throat physician),“When the hearing nerves and the areas of the brain responsible for hearing are deprived of sound, they atrophy, or weaken.”
  2. Using only one hearing aid when there is actually hearing loss in BOTH ears. This basically deprives the unaided ear of sound. Oftentimes when the second hearing aid is finally purchased, that ear will have “forgotten” how to listen and may have difficulty adapting to sound. Many years ago, a study was done on veterans returning from combat who had hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises in the war. These veterans all had hearing loss in both ears but were fit with only one hearing aid. Years later, these same veterans had their hearing retested. The study showed the ear that was aided still understood words very well, but the unaided ears often had difficulty understanding speech.
  3. Improper fitting and tuning of hearing aids. At Arizona Hearing Specialists, we pride ourselves in having the experience and equipment to make sure your hearing aids are properly “tuned” for your hearing loss. We believe your hearing aids are only as good as your hearing healthcare provider. If your hearing aids are not programmed correctly for your hearing loss, you may be depriving your ear(s) of sound!


The human body works best on a “use it or lose it” basis. Our body’s systems — skeletal, muscular, sensory etc. — will atrophy or weaken the longer they go unused. Let’s say you like to go dancing every Saturday night. What do you think would happen if you stayed in bed Sunday through Friday? How well do you think your legs will do on Saturday night? It doesn’t matter how badly you WANT to dance, it will be more difficult because you have not been exercising your legs. Your ears need exercise as well, just like your legs. If you have hearing loss, wearing hearing aids is like “exercising” your hearing and brain. And, just like dancing, practice makes perfect. The more you wear your hearing aids and stimulate the auditory system the better your brain gets at recognizing sounds.

Prevention is the best cure

What’s the best treatment for auditory deprivation? Avoid it in the first place. Your audiologist can do a thorough hearing evaluation to see what sounds you are not hearing. Then you can discuss a plan to make sure you are hearing your best. If hearing aids are needed, it is important to work with an audiologist who is committed to the process of selecting the right instruments for your specific situation…and then program them correctly! Finally, it is very important for YOU to be committed to wearing the instruments so that your ears are not deprived of sound.

In other words…if you need hearing aids, wear them OR YOUR BRAIN WILL RUST!!

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John Cobb, Au.D.
John Cobb, Au.D.

Dr. John Cobb is originally from Tucson. He graduated from Rincon High School, then received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Audiology from the University of Arizona. He served as the Coordinator of Audiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston from 1975-79, and then was the Director of COBB Audiology & Hearing Aid Center (in Fort Worth, TX) for 30 years. In 2009, he moved back to southern Arizona and began working with Arizona Hearing Specialists. Dr. Cobb practices what he preaches – he wears hearing devices as a result of what he describes as a “music-induced hearing loss.”