What is auditory deprivation and what are the implications to those with hearing impairment? Auditory deprivation is a term used among hearing healthcare practitioners that refers to the gradual loss of hearing, specifically speech understanding, due to lack of stimulation to the hearing nerve. Once hearing loss occurs, the tiny hearing nerve receptors are no longer easily stimulated by sound. Things have to be louder for the hearing nerve to be stimulated. The less stimulated the hearing nerve is the more likely the nerve receptors will eventually weaken, a termed called atrophy. Eventually, some or many of the hearing receptors could die off completely.
Auditory deprivation was first recognized in the 1980’s by researchers1 who noticed that those individuals diagnosed with hearing impairment in both ears but who only wore a hearing device in one ear showed signs of worsening speech understanding in the unaided ear. This observation was further confirmed by researchers in future studies2,3. However, further research has shown that when individuals seek amplification for the hearing impaired ear(s) that have not been aided, the effects of auditory can be reversed, although not always4,5,6
What does this mean?
In layman’s terms, the research is suggestive that once hearing loss is suspected and then confirmed, one should consider hearing devices if one is concerned with loss of more speech understanding ability. Failing to take action sooner rather than later could result in long lasting effects to the ear and hearing. Note: this information is not meant to scare hearing impaired individuals that failure to seek amplification will result in rapid loss of hearing to the point of deafness. Auditory deprivation is still not well understood and it is unclear why the effects of such manifest in some individuals and not others nor why some individuals show reversal of auditory deprivation effects whereas others do not. The message is that depriving the ear of sound and stimulation can lead to further hearing loss with regard to speech understanding.
1Silman S, Gelfand SA, Silverman CA. (1984). Effects of monaural versus binaural hearing aids. J Acoust Soc Am 76:1357-1362
2Hurley, Raymond (1999). Onset of Auditory Deprivation. J Am Acad Audiol 10: 539-534
3Silverman, Carol, et al (2006). Auditory Deprivation in adults with asymmetric, Sensorineural hearing impairment. J Am Acad Audiol 17: 747-762
4Gelfand, Stanley (1995). Long-term recovery and no recovery from the auditory deprivation effect with binaural amplification: six cases. J Am Acad Audiol 6: 141-149
5Silverman, Carol & Silman, Shlomo. Apparent audiotry deprivation from monaural amplification and recovery with binaural amplification: two case studies. J Am Acad Audiol 1: 175-180
6Arlinger, S et al (1996). Report of the Eriksholm workshop on auditory deprivation and acclimatization. Ear & Hearing 17, Vol 3: 87S-98S