When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it normally would. Does that surprise you? That’s because we often think about brains in the wrong way. You may think that only injury or trauma can change your brain. But the reality is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
The majority of people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others become more powerful. The well-known example is usually vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become very powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but like all good myths, there could be a sliver of truth in there somewhere. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to debate how much this is valid in adults, but we know it’s true in children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, has been shown by CT scans to change, altering the part of the brain normally responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be impacted by even slight loss of hearing.
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. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all use a specific amount of brain power. When your young, your brain is extremely flexible and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain changed its general structure. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that space in the brain is restructured to be committed to vision. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Hearing Loss Also Causes Changes
Children who suffer from mild to moderate loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t produce superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adjust to loss of hearing seems to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has implications beyond childhood. The vast majority of people living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is usually a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss changing their brains, as well?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has associated untreated hearing loss with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although we haven’t verified hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does affect the brain.
Families from around the US have anecdotally borne this out.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
It’s more than superficial insight that loss of hearing can have such a significant effect on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are often considerable and obvious mental health impacts. Being informed of those effects can help you be prepared for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take the appropriate steps to protect your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on many factors (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But you can be certain that untreated hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter what your age.