When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it otherwise might. Is that surprising to you? That’s because we usually have false ideas about brain development. You might think that only damage or trauma can alter your brain. But the reality is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
Most people have heard that when one sense decreases the others get more powerful. The well-known example is usually vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become super powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but as is the case with all good myths, there might be a sliver of truth somewhere in there. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to debate how much this holds true in adults, but we know it’s true in children.
CT scans and other studies of children who have loss of hearing demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, transforming the part of the brain normally 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 minor loss of hearing.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are functioning, the brain devotes a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. A specific amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. When your young, your brain is extremely pliable and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
Established literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain changed its overall structure. The space that would normally be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual cognition. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are delivering the most information.
Modifications With Minor to Medium Hearing Loss
Children who have mild to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to result in significant behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Alternatively, they simply appear to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The modification in the brains of children undoubtedly has far reaching consequences. The great majority of individuals living with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss in general is commonly a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss modifying their brains, as well?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has linked neglected hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So while it’s not certain if the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it modifies the brain.
Individuals from around the country have anecdotally borne this out.
Your Overall Health is Influenced by Hearing Loss
That loss of hearing can have such a major influence on the brain is more than basic superficial information. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently connected.
There can be obvious and considerable mental health problems when hearing loss develops. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be cognizant of them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take steps to preserve your quality of life.
How drastically your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on numerous factors (including how old you are, older brains usually firm up that structure and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how serious your hearing loss is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.