When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it otherwise might. Is that surprising to you? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always accurate. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes because of injury or trauma. But the truth is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
Most people have heard that when one sense decreases the others get more powerful. The well-known example is always vision: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been verified scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is changed 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 suffer from 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 effected by even moderate hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are working, the brain dedicates a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all make use of a certain amount of brain space. When your young, your brain is very flexible and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
Established literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain modified its overall structure. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be devoted to vision. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Modifications With Minor to Moderate Hearing Loss
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with minor to medium hearing loss too.
These brain alterations won’t lead to superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Rather, they simply appear to help individuals adjust to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The evidence that loss of hearing can change the brains of children definitely has implications beyond childhood. The great majority of people dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is often a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being altered by loss of hearing?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain if the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it modifies the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the US.
Your Overall Health is Affected by Hearing Loss
It’s more than superficial insight that loss of hearing can have such an important impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently connected.
There can be noticeable and considerable mental health issues when hearing loss develops. Being informed of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take action to maintain your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on numerous factors ((age is a significant factor because older brains have a tougher time creating new neural pathways). But there’s no doubt that neglected hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter what your age.