Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Is that surprising to you? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always correct. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static thing: it only changes as a result of injury or trauma. But the fact is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
You’ve probably heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will become more powerful to counterbalance. Vision is the most popular example: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that happens in children, how much we can apply this to adults is uncertain.
CT scans and other research on children with loss of hearing reveal that their brains physically alter their structures, changing 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 effected by even moderate hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A certain amount of brainpower is devoted to each sense when they are all functioning. The interpretation of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a specific amount of brain power. When your young, your brain is extremely flexible and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
It’s already been proven that the brain changed its structure in children with high degrees of hearing loss. Instead of being committed to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be dedicated to vision. The brain devotes more space and more power to the senses that are providing the most input.
Changes With Minor to Moderate Hearing Loss
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with minor to medium hearing loss also.
These brain modifications won’t cause superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adjust to hearing loss seems to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that hearing loss can change the brains of children certainly has implications beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is normally a consequence of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people suffering from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Some evidence indicates that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular parts of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though it’s not certain if the other senses are modified by hearing loss we do know it changes the brain.
Individuals from around the US have anecdotally backed this up.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
It’s more than trivial insight that loss of hearing can have such a substantial impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently linked.
When loss of hearing develops, there are usually considerable and noticeable mental health impacts. Being mindful of those effects can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you 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 a myriad of factors (including how old you are, older brains tend to firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But you can be certain that untreated hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.