When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it normally would. Is that surprising to you? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes due to trauma or damage. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve likely heard of the idea that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to counterbalance. The popular example is usually vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become super powerful as a counterbalance.
There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is the case in adults, but we do know it’s true with children.
CT scans and other research on children with loss of hearing demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, changing the part of the brain normally responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be effected by even moderate hearing loss.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
A certain amount of brainpower is committed to each sense when they are all functioning. A certain amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. When your young, your brain is extremely pliable and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
It’s already been confirmed that the brain altered its architecture in children with high degrees of hearing loss. The space that would in most cases be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Modifications With Minor to Medium Hearing Loss
Children who have mild to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t produce superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adapt to loss of hearing appears to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The change in the brains of children definitely has far reaching repercussions. Hearing loss is commonly a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means the majority of people suffering from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been linked, according to other evidence, with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though it’s not certain if the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it modifies the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from people across the US.
Your Overall Health is Affected by Hearing Loss
It’s more than superficial insight that hearing loss can have such an important impact on the brain. It reminds us all of the vital and intrinsic relationships between your brain and your senses.
There can be obvious and significant mental health issues when hearing loss develops. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be cognizant of them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to maintain your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on several factors (including your age, older brains usually firm up that structure and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But there’s no doubt that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.