Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with hearing loss. Does that surprise you? That’s because we often have false ideas about brain development. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static thing: it only changes due to trauma or injury. But the reality is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve most likely heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will become more powerful in order to counterbalance. The well-known example is usually vision: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but as is the case with all good myths, there might be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is changed by hearing loss. It’s open to debate how much this is the case in adults, but we do know it’s true in children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have loss of hearing, has been shown by CT scans to change, transforming the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be influenced by even minor hearing loss.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are functioning, the brain devotes a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a certain amount of brain space. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely flexible) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been proven that the brain altered its structure in children with high degrees of hearing loss. Instead of being devoted to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be devoted to vision. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Changes With Mild to Medium Hearing Loss
Children who suffer from minor to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
Make no mistake, these changes in the brain aren’t going to result in significant behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Helping people adapt to hearing loss appears to be a more practical interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The evidence that hearing loss can change the brains of children certainly has repercussions beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is commonly an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means most people suffering from it are adults. Are their brains also being altered by loss of hearing?
Some research indicates that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain if the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it alters the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from people across the US.
Your Overall Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
That hearing loss can have such an enormous impact on the brain is more than basic trivial information. It reminds us all of the vital and inherent links between your brain and your senses.
There can be noticeable and significant mental health issues when loss of hearing develops. Being mindful of those effects can help you prepare for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take the appropriate steps to preserve your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your loss of hearing will physically modify your brain (including how old you are, older brains commonly firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how serious your hearing loss is, neglected hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.