Your brain develops in a different way than it normally would if you’re born with hearing loss. Shocked? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always correct. You might think that only injury or trauma can change your brain. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve likely heard of the concept that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful to compensate. The well-known example is usually vision: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
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 alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is valid in adults, but we know it’s true in children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from loss of hearing, has been shown by CT scans to change, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even moderate loss of hearing can have an influence on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are working, the brain dedicates a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. A certain amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. When your young, your brain is very flexible and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
It’s already been verified that the brain modified its architecture in children with advanced hearing loss. Instead of being devoted to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be dedicated to vision. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are providing the most input.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Changes
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to moderate hearing loss too.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to lead to significant behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Rather, they simply appear to help individuals adapt to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The change in the brains of children undoubtedly has far reaching repercussions. The great majority of people living with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss itself is commonly a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss altering their brains, as well?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in particular parts of the brain. Other evidence has connected neglected 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 do know it alters the brain.
Individuals from around the country have anecdotally backed this up.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That hearing loss can have such an enormous influence on the brain is more than simple superficial information. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically linked.
When hearing loss develops, there are commonly significant and noticeable mental health impacts. Being conscious of those impacts can help you be prepared for them. And being prepared will help you take steps to maintain your quality of life.
How substantially your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on many factors (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how extreme your hearing loss is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.