When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it normally would. Surprised? That’s because we typically think about brains in the wrong way. You may think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But the truth is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve probably heard of the idea that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will become more powerful in order to compensate. Vision is the most well known instance: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but like all good myths, there might be a nugget of truth in there somewhere. 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 extrapolate to adults is an open question.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from hearing loss, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, transforming the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to 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 Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are functioning, the brain dedicates a specific 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 so on. When your young, your brain is very pliable and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
It’s already been confirmed that the brain modified its architecture in children with high degrees of hearing loss. The space that would usually be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual cognition. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing Also Causes Modifications
Children who have mild to medium hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
Make no mistake, these changes in the brain aren’t going to translate into substantial behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Helping individuals adjust to hearing loss appears to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that hearing loss can change the brains of children certainly has ramifications beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is normally a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that most people suffering from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by loss of hearing?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain whether the other senses are improved by hearing loss we are sure it alters the brain.
People from around the US have anecdotally backed this up.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That hearing loss can have such a substantial effect on the brain is more than basic trivial information. It calls attention to all of the relevant and intrinsic connections between your senses and your brain.
When hearing loss develops, there are usually considerable and recognizable mental health effects. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be cognizant of them. And being prepared will help you take steps to preserve your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on a myriad of factors (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how severe your hearing loss is, untreated hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.