When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it normally would. Does that surprise you? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static thing: it only changes due to trauma or damage. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
You’ve likely heard of the idea that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will grow more powerful to compensate. The well-known example is usually vision: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
There might 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. It’s open to debate how much this is valid in adults, but we do 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 moderate loss of hearing can have an effect on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are functioning, the brain devotes a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a specific amount of brain space. When your young, your brain is extremely pliable and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
Established literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain altered its general structure. Instead of being devoted to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Causes Changes
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with minor to medium hearing loss also.
Make no mistake, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to cause substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Rather, they simply seem to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The alteration in the brains of children certainly has far reaching consequences. The vast majority of individuals dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is commonly a result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in certain areas of the brain. Hearing loss has been connected, according to other evidence, with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while we haven’t proven hearing loss improves your other senses, it does impact the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from families across the country.
Your Overall Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
It’s more than superficial insight that hearing loss can have such an important impact on the brain. It calls attention to all of the essential and intrinsic links between your brain and your senses.
When hearing loss develops, there are usually considerable and obvious mental health impacts. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be mindful of them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take the appropriate steps to protect your quality of life.
How drastically your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on many factors (including how old you are, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But you can be certain that untreated hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter what your age.