Your brain develops differently than it normally would if you’re born with loss of hearing. Shocked? That’s because we typically think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes as a result of trauma or damage. But the truth is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
You’ve most likely heard of the notion that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to compensate. Vision is the most popular example: as you lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become ultra powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but like all good myths, there could be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can apply this 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 the brain’s architecture can be impacted by even moderate loss of hearing.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A certain amount of brainpower is committed to each sense when they are all working. A specific amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. Much of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly flexible) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
Established literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain altered its general structure. The space that would usually be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual cognition. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Hearing Loss Also Causes Changes
Children who have minor to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t cause superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adjust to hearing loss appears to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that hearing loss can change the brains of children definitely has implications beyond childhood. Hearing loss is commonly an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means the majority of people suffering from it are adults. Is loss of hearing modifying their brains, as well?
Some evidence reveals that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Other evidence has connected untreated hearing loss with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although it’s not certain if the other senses are modified by hearing loss we are sure it changes the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the US.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
It’s more than trivial insight that loss of hearing can have such a substantial effect on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically connected.
There can be noticeable and significant mental health issues 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 action to protect your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on a myriad of factors (including how old you are, older brains usually firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how serious your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.