When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it normally might. Shocked? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always accurate. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes as a result of trauma or injury. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
You’ve most likely heard of the idea that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to compensate. The well-known example is always vision: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to debate how much this is valid in adults, but we know it’s true with children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from loss of hearing, has been shown by CT scans to change, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be influenced by even mild loss of hearing.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A certain amount of brainpower is devoted to each sense when they are all functioning. A certain amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. Much of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely flexible) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been verified that the brain altered its structure 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 provide the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Changes With Minor to Moderate Hearing Loss
Children who have minor to moderate loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to result in substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Instead, they simply seem to help people adapt to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. The great majority of people living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is commonly a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is loss of hearing changing their brains, too?
Some evidence suggests that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Hearing loss has been connected, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain if the other senses are enhanced by hearing loss we are sure it alters the brain.
Individuals from around the US have anecdotally borne this out.
Your Overall Health is Influenced by Hearing Loss
That loss of hearing can have such a major impact on the brain is more than basic superficial information. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically connected.
When loss of hearing develops, there are commonly considerable and obvious mental health impacts. Being mindful of those effects can help you prepare for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take the appropriate steps to protect your quality of life.
How substantially your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on several factors ((age is a leading factor because older brains have a tougher time establishing new neural pathways). But there’s no doubt that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter what your age.