Your brain develops differently than it normally would if you’re born with loss of hearing. Shocked? That’s because we normally have false ideas about brain development. You might think that only injury or trauma can alter your brain. But the fact is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve probably heard of the notion that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will become more powerful in order to counterbalance. The well-known example is always vision: as you 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 in there somewhere. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is changed by hearing loss. It’s open to debate how much this is true in adults, but we do know it’s true with children.
CT scans and other studies of children who have hearing loss reveal that their brains physically change their structures, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even moderate hearing loss can have an impact on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are working, the brain devotes 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 etc. A lot of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
Established literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain changed its overall structure. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Modifications With Mild to Medium Hearing Loss
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with mild to moderate loss of hearing also.
These brain changes won’t lead to superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Rather, they simply appear to help individuals adapt to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that hearing loss can alter the brains of children certainly has implications beyond childhood. The great majority of people dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is frequently a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Some research reveals that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has linked neglected hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So although we haven’t confirmed hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does affect the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from people across the US.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
That loss of hearing can have such a major effect on the brain is more than simple trivial insight. It reminds us all of the vital and inherent relationships between your senses and your brain.
When hearing loss develops, there are often considerable and recognizable mental health impacts. Being aware of those effects can help you be prepared for them. And being prepared will help you take action to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will determine how much your hearing loss will physically alter your brain (including how old you are, older brains usually firm up that architecture 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 definitely have an effect on your brain.