Your brain develops in a different way than it normally would if you’re born with hearing loss. Does that surprise you? That’s because we commonly think about brains in the wrong way. You might think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But brains are actually more dynamic than that.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
Most people have heard that when one sense decreases the others get more powerful. Vision is the most well known instance: 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 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 apply this to adults is an open question.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from loss of hearing, has been shown by CT scans to change, changing the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even mild 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 dedicates a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. A specific amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. A lot 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.
Conventional literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain altered its general architecture. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be devoted to vision. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Changes With Mild to Medium Hearing Loss
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with mild to moderate loss of hearing also.
Make no mistake, these changes in the brain aren’t going to cause significant behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Helping individuals adjust to hearing loss seems to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The modification in the brains of children certainly has far reaching repercussions. Hearing loss is commonly an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Is loss of hearing altering their brains, as well?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in certain areas of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although we haven’t confirmed hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does affect the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from families across the country.
Your General Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
That hearing loss can have such a major impact on the brain is more than simple superficial information. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically connected.
There can be noticeable and substantial mental health problems when hearing loss develops. Being aware of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to preserve your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on a myriad of factors ((age is a significant factor because older brains have a harder time creating new neural pathways). But regardless of your age or how severe your hearing loss is, neglected hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.