Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Shocked? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes because of injury or trauma. But the reality is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve probably heard of the notion that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will become more powerful in order to compensate. The well-known example is usually vision: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing 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 might be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by hearing loss. It’s open to question how much this is true in adults, but we do know it’s true in children.
CT scans and other studies of children with loss of hearing demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, altering 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 even mild hearing loss can have an impact on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are working, the brain dedicates a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. A specific amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been confirmed that the brain modified its architecture in children with advanced hearing loss. The space that would usually be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual cognition. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Modifications With Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with mild to moderate hearing loss too.
These brain alterations won’t produce superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adjust to hearing loss seems to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that hearing loss can change the brains of children certainly has repercussions beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is commonly a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that most people suffering from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by loss of hearing?
Some evidence reveals that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Other evidence has connected neglected hearing loss with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though we haven’t confirmed hearing loss improves your other senses, it does influence the brain.
People from around the US have anecdotally borne this out.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That hearing loss can have such a substantial impact on the brain is more than simple superficial information. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently linked.
When hearing loss develops, there are often significant and noticeable mental health impacts. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be cognizant of them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take steps to protect your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on a myriad of factors ((age is a leading factor because older brains have a tougher time establishing new neural pathways). But regardless of your age or how severe your hearing loss is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.