When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise would. Shocked? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes as a result of damage or trauma. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
The majority of people have heard that when one sense decreases the others get stronger. Vision is the most well known example: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
There may be some truth to this but it hasn’t been established scientifically. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that happens in children, how much we can apply this to adults is uncertain.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from 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 moderate hearing loss can have an impact on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
A certain amount of brainpower is dedicated to each sense when they are all functioning. A specific amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. Much of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely pliable) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been proven that the brain modified its architecture in children with advanced hearing loss. Instead of being devoted to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be dedicated to vision. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are delivering the most information.
Minor to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Causes Changes
Children who suffer from mild to medium hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t lead to superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Alternatively, they simply seem to help individuals adapt to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The modification in the brains of children definitely has far reaching consequences. Loss of hearing is normally a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people suffering from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Some evidence suggests that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Other evidence has associated untreated hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though we haven’t verified hearing loss improves your other senses, it does affect the brain.
Individuals from around the country have anecdotally backed this up.
Your Overall Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
That loss of hearing can have such a major impact on the brain is more than simple superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically linked.
When loss of hearing develops, there are commonly substantial and obvious mental health impacts. Being aware of those impacts can help you be prepared for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take the appropriate steps to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your hearing loss will physically alter your brain (including how old you are, older brains usually firm up that structure and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how severe your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.