When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it normally would. Shocked? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes because of damage or trauma. But the fact is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve probably heard of the concept that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow 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 as is the case with all good myths, there could be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is changed by loss of hearing. It’s open to question how much this holds true in adults, but we know it’s true with 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 mild hearing loss can have an impact on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are working, the brain dedicates a specific 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.
Established literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain altered its general structure. Instead of being committed to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Changes
Children who suffer from minor to moderate loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to cause significant behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Helping individuals adapt to loss of hearing seems to be a more practical interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has repercussions beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is frequently an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people suffering from it are adults. Is loss of hearing altering their brains, as well?
Some evidence reveals that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain areas of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while we haven’t confirmed hearing loss improves your other senses, it does affect the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from families across the US.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
That loss of hearing can have such a significant effect on the brain is more than basic superficial insight. It reminds us all of the relevant and intrinsic connections between your senses and your brain.
There can be noticeable and significant mental health problems when loss of hearing develops. Being informed of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take action to maintain your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on numerous factors ((age is a significant factor because older brains have a more difficult time developing new neural pathways). 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 what your age.