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 thing: it only changes due to trauma or injury. But the fact is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve most likely heard of the idea that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will grow more powerful to counterbalance. 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 in the medical literature, but as is the case with all good myths, there may be a nugget of truth in there somewhere. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is uncertain.
CT scans and other studies of children with loss of hearing reveal that their brains physically change their structures, changing 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 loss of hearing can have an effect on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
A specific amount of brainpower is devoted to each sense when they are all working. The interpretation of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a specific amount of brain space. 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 usually be devoted 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 Mild to Medium Hearing Loss
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with minor to moderate hearing loss too.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to translate into significant behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Alternatively, they simply seem to help people adapt to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that hearing loss can alter the brains of children certainly has ramifications beyond childhood. The vast majority of people living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is often a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is loss of hearing changing their brains, as well?
Some research reveals that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has connected untreated hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though it’s not certain whether the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it modifies the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from families across the US.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
It’s more than trivial insight that loss of hearing can have such an important influence on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are often significant 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 action to maintain your quality of life.
How substantially your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on several factors ((age is a leading factor because older brains have a harder time developing new neural pathways). But regardless of your age or how extreme your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.