When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise might. Shocked? That’s because we commonly think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes due to trauma or damage. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
You’ve probably heard of the notion that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will become more powerful to compensate. Vision is the most well known instance: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been confirmed scientifically. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that happens in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is an open question.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from loss of hearing, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, altering 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 moderate hearing loss can have an effect on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are functioning, the brain devotes a certain 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 etc. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly flexible) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
Conventional literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain changed its general architecture. The space that would usually be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual cognition. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Hearing Loss Also Causes Changes
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with minor to moderate hearing loss also.
These brain alterations won’t produce superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Alternatively, they simply seem to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The alteration in the brains of children undoubtedly has far reaching repercussions. The great majority of people dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss itself is commonly a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is loss of hearing modifying their brains, too?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Hearing loss has been linked, according to other evidence, with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although we haven’t proven hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does affect the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from families across the US.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That hearing loss can have such a major impact on the brain is more than simple trivial insight. It reminds us all of the essential and inherent links between your senses and your brain.
There can be noticeable and substantial mental health problems when loss of hearing develops. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be aware of them. And being prepared will help you take steps to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your hearing loss will physically modify your brain ((age is a major factor because older brains have a harder time developing new neural pathways). But regardless of your age or how extreme your loss of hearing is, neglected hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.