When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise might. Does that surprise you? That’s because we commonly think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static thing: it only changes as a result of trauma or injury. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
The majority of people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others become stronger. The well-known example is usually vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become very powerful as a counterbalance.
There may be some truth to this but it hasn’t been established scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by loss of hearing. It’s open to debate how much this is the case in adults, but we do know it’s true in children.
CT scans and other studies of children who have loss of hearing demonstrate that their brains physically alter their structures, transforming the part of the brain normally 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 minor hearing loss.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
A specific amount of brainpower is committed to each sense when they are all working. A certain amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. When your young, your brain is very flexible and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain altered its overall structure. The space that would in most cases be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual perception. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are providing the most information.
Minor to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Modifications
Children who suffer from minor to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to translate into significant behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Helping people adjust to hearing loss seems to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The evidence that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children certainly has repercussions beyond childhood. Hearing loss is commonly a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means most people who suffer from it are adults. Is loss of hearing changing their brains, too?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So although it’s not certain if the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it changes the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from people across the US.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That loss of hearing can have such an enormous influence on the brain is more than simple superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically connected.
There can be noticeable and considerable mental health issues when hearing loss develops. Being informed of those effects can help you be prepared for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take the appropriate steps to protect 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 commonly firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how severe your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.