When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little bit differently than it otherwise might. Is that surprising to you? That’s because we usually think about brains in the wrong way. You may think that only injury or trauma can alter your brain. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve likely heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to counterbalance. The popular example is usually vision: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by loss of hearing. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can apply this to adults is uncertain.
CT scans and other research on children who have hearing loss show that their brains physically change their structures, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even mild hearing loss can have an influence on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are functioning, the brain devotes a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. A specific amount of brain space 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 developed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain altered its general architecture. The space that would normally be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Changes
Children who suffer from mild to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t result in superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping people adapt to loss of hearing appears to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children certainly has implications beyond childhood. The great majority of individuals dealing with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss in general is frequently a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss modifying their brains, too?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Other evidence has connected untreated hearing loss with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although it’s not certain whether the other senses are enhanced by hearing loss we are sure it changes the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from people across the US.
The Influence of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
That loss of hearing can have such a major impact on the brain is more than simple superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are often considerable and noticeable mental health impacts. Being informed of those effects can help you prepare for them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take action to maintain your quality of life.
How drastically your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on many factors ((age is a major factor because older brains have a more difficult time creating new neural pathways). But regardless of your age or how extreme your loss of hearing is, neglected hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.