When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it normally might. Surprised? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes due to damage or trauma. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
The majority of people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others get more powerful. Vision is the most well known instance: as you lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become super powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but as is the case with all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth in there somewhere. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this holds true in adults, but we do know it’s true with children.
CT scans and other studies of children who have loss of hearing show that their brains physically change their structures, changing the part of the brain normally 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 impacted by even mild loss of hearing.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A certain amount of brainpower is committed to each sense when they are all working. A certain amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. Much of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely flexible) 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 hearing loss, the brain altered its general structure. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be committed to vision. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Changes With Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss
Children who have mild to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
These brain modifications won’t result in superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adapt to loss of hearing seems to be a more practical interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The alteration in the brains of children definitely has far reaching repercussions. The great majority of individuals living with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss in general is usually a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being altered by hearing loss?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Other evidence has associated neglected hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though we haven’t proven hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does influence the brain.
Families from around the US have anecdotally backed this up.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That hearing loss can have such an enormous effect on the brain is more than basic superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically linked.
When hearing loss develops, there are commonly significant and obvious mental health effects. Being conscious of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take action to maintain your quality of life.
Many factors will determine how much your loss of hearing will physically change your brain (including your age, older brains tend to firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But there’s no doubt that untreated hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter what your age.