When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it normally would. Is that surprising to you? That’s because we typically have false ideas about brain development. You might think that only damage or trauma can alter your brain. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve likely heard of the notion that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will become more powerful to counterbalance. Vision is the most well known example: as you lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become ultra powerful as a counterbalance.
There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been verified scientifically. Because hearing loss, 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 an open question.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from loss of hearing, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, transforming 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 the brain’s architecture can be influenced by even mild hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is devoted 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 so on. When your young, your brain is very flexible and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
Established literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain changed its overall architecture. The space that would in most cases be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual perception. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Moderate Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Modifications
Children who suffer from mild to medium hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to cause significant behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Helping people adapt to loss of hearing appears to be a more practical interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The alteration in the brains of children undoubtedly has far reaching consequences. The great majority of individuals dealing with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss in general is usually a result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss altering their brains, too?
Some research suggests that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in particular parts of the brain. Other evidence has linked neglected hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So while we haven’t confirmed hearing loss improves your other senses, it does influence the brain.
Families from around the country have anecdotally borne this out.
Your General Health is Influenced by Hearing Loss
That hearing loss can have such an enormous influence on the brain is more than basic trivial information. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are inherently connected.
There can be noticeable and substantial mental health problems when hearing loss develops. Being conscious of those effects can help you prepare for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take action to protect your quality of life.
How substantially your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on several factors (including your age, older brains usually firm up that structure and new neural pathways are harder 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.