When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise would. Shocked? That’s because we usually have false ideas about brain development. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static thing: it only changes because of trauma or damage. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
The majority of people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others become stronger. The popular example is usually vision: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but as is the case with all good myths, there might be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is an open question.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even minor loss of hearing can have an effect on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are working, the brain devotes a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. A certain 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 formed and this architecture is being set up.
It’s already been proven that the brain altered its structure in children with advanced hearing loss. The space that would usually be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual perception. The brain devotes more space and more power to the senses that are delivering the most input.
Modifications With Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss
Children who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to cause substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. 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 alteration in the brains of children certainly has far reaching consequences. Hearing loss is normally a consequence of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by loss of hearing?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has connected untreated hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So while we haven’t confirmed hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does impact the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from people across the country.
Your Overall Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
It’s more than trivial information that hearing loss can have such a substantial effect on the brain. It calls attention to all of the relevant and inherent relationships between your brain and your senses.
When hearing loss develops, there are commonly significant and recognizable mental health impacts. Being mindful of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to maintain your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your loss of hearing will physically change your brain (including your age, older brains tend to firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how severe your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.