When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it otherwise might. Shocked? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always correct. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes due to injury or trauma. But the truth is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve probably heard of the notion that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to compensate. The popular example is always vision: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been verified scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by loss of hearing. It’s open to question how much this is the case in adults, but we know it’s true in children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, 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 minor hearing loss can have an influence 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 working. A certain amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly flexible) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
Established literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain altered its overall structure. The space that would normally be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual perception. The brain gives more space and more power to the senses that are providing the most information.
Changes With Mild to Moderate Loss of Hearing
Children who suffer from mild to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
These brain changes won’t result in superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adjust to loss of hearing seems to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that loss of hearing can change the brains of children definitely has repercussions beyond childhood. The vast majority of people dealing with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss itself is usually a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is loss of hearing altering their brains, as well?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain regions of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though we haven’t confirmed hearing loss improves your other senses, it does impact the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the country.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
That loss of hearing can have such a substantial effect on the brain is more than basic trivial insight. It reminds us all of the relevant and inherent relationships between your brain and your senses.
There can be noticeable and considerable mental health issues when loss of hearing develops. Being mindful of those effects can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to protect your quality of life.
How drastically your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on many factors (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how severe your hearing loss is, neglected hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.