Your brain develops differently than it normally would if you’re born with hearing loss. Shocked? That’s because we commonly think about brains in the wrong way. You might think that only injury or trauma can alter your brain. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
Most people have heard that when one sense decreases the others become stronger. The popular example is always vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become very powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but like all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth somewhere in there. 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.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, has been shown by CT scans to change, transforming the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even minor loss of hearing 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 dedicates 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 extremely pliable and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
Established literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain changed its overall architecture. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Changes With Mild to Moderate Loss of Hearing
Children who suffer from minor to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t cause superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping people adapt to loss of hearing appears to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that hearing loss can change the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. The vast majority of individuals dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss itself is frequently a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss modifying their brains, too?
Some research suggests that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular parts of the brain. Hearing loss has been connected, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though we haven’t verified hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does affect the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the country.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
It’s more than trivial information that loss of hearing can have such an important impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically connected.
There can be obvious and significant mental health problems when hearing loss develops. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be cognizant of them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to preserve your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your hearing loss will physically change your brain (including how old you are, older brains tend to firm up that structure and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how serious your loss of hearing is, neglected hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.