When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it normally might. Shocked? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always accurate. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes due to injury or trauma. But brains are actually more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
You’ve probably heard of the concept that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will become more powerful to compensate. Vision is the most well known example: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but as is the case with all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth in there somewhere. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that happens in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is uncertain.
CT scans and other research on children who have hearing loss show that their brains physically change their structures, transforming the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be impacted by even moderate loss of hearing.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are functioning, the brain dedicates a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all make use of a specific amount of brain space. When your young, your brain is extremely flexible and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain changed its overall architecture. The space that would usually be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Changes With Minor to Moderate Hearing Loss
Children who suffer from minor to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
These brain modifications won’t cause superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping people adapt to loss of hearing appears to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that hearing loss can change the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. The vast majority of people living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is usually a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being altered by hearing loss?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been connected, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So although we haven’t verified hearing loss improves your other senses, it does impact the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the country.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
It’s more than superficial insight that hearing loss can have such a major impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently connected.
There can be obvious and considerable mental health problems when hearing loss develops. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be mindful of them. And being prepared will help you take steps to preserve your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on many factors (including your age, older brains tend to firm up that structure and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how severe your hearing loss is, untreated hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.