Your brain develops in a different way than normal if you’re born with hearing loss. Is that surprising to you? That’s because we usually think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you believe, is a static thing: it only changes due to trauma or damage. But brains are actually more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve most likely heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful to counterbalance. Vision is the most well known example: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
There may be some truth to this but it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that happens in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is an open question.
CT scans and other studies of children who have loss of hearing reveal that their brains physically alter their structures, changing the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even moderate loss of hearing can have an effect on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is devoted to each sense when they are all functioning. The interpretation of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all make use of a certain amount of brain power. Much of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
Established literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain altered its general structure. Instead of being committed to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Changes With Minor to Medium Loss of Hearing
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to medium loss of hearing also.
Make no mistake, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to translate into substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Rather, they simply appear to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has implications beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is normally a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means most people who suffer from it are adults. Is hearing loss altering their brains, too?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So although we haven’t confirmed hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does impact the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from families across the country.
The Influence of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That loss of hearing can have such a substantial influence on the brain is more than basic superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are commonly considerable and recognizable mental health impacts. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be mindful of them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take steps to protect your quality of life.
How drastically your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on a myriad of factors ((age is a major factor because older brains have a harder time developing new neural pathways). But you can be certain that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.