Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Does that surprise you? That’s because we normally think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes as a result of injury or trauma. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve most likely heard of the idea that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to compensate. Vision is the most well known 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 in the medical literature, but as is the case with all good myths, there could be a sliver of truth in there somewhere. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can apply this to adults is an open question.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have loss of hearing, has been demonstrated 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 Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are working, 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. Much of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly flexible) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been verified that the brain altered its structure in children with advanced hearing loss. The space that would usually be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Hearing Loss Also Causes Modifications
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to medium hearing loss also.
These brain changes won’t cause superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adjust to loss of hearing 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 ramifications beyond childhood. The vast majority of people dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss itself is frequently a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being changed by loss of hearing?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has linked neglected hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though it’s not certain whether the other senses are modified by hearing loss we do know it modifies the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from families across the country.
Your Overall Health is Affected by Hearing Loss
It’s more than superficial information that loss of hearing can have such a substantial influence on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically linked.
There can be obvious and significant mental health issues when hearing loss develops. Being informed of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take steps to maintain your quality of life.
How substantially your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on numerous factors ((age is a leading factor because older brains have a tougher time creating new neural pathways). But there’s no doubt that untreated hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter what your age.