When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise might. Is that surprising to you? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you believe, is a static thing: it only changes as a result of trauma or injury. But brains are actually more dynamic than that.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve likely heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to compensate. Vision is the most popular instance: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become ultra powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but like all good myths, there could be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to debate how much this is true in adults, but we do know it’s true with children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from hearing loss, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, altering 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 even minor loss of hearing can have an impact on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are functioning, 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 use a specific amount of brain power. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
Established literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain modified its general architecture. The space that would in most cases be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual cognition. The brain gives more space and more power to the senses that are providing the most input.
Modifications With Minor to Medium Hearing Loss
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with mild to moderate loss of hearing also.
These brain changes won’t cause superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Rather, they simply seem to help individuals adjust to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that hearing loss can alter the brains of children certainly has implications beyond childhood. Hearing loss is frequently an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Some research reveals that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in certain regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been linked, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though it’s not certain whether the other senses are enhanced by hearing loss we are sure it alters the brain.
Individuals from around the US have anecdotally borne this out.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
It’s more than superficial information that hearing loss can have such a substantial impact on the brain. It calls attention to all of the relevant and inherent links between your senses and your brain.
When loss of hearing develops, there are usually substantial and noticeable mental health effects. Being mindful 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 much your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on several factors (including your age, older brains usually firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But you can be certain that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.