When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it normally might. Shocked? That’s because we often have false ideas about brain development. You may think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But the truth is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
You’ve most likely heard of the notion that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to compensate. The well-known example is always vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become ultra powerful as a counterbalance.
There may be some truth to this but it hasn’t been verified scientifically. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is the case in adults, but we do know it’s true with 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 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 functioning. The interpretation of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all make use of a specific amount of brain power. When your young, your brain is very pliable and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain altered its overall architecture. The space that would usually be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Modifications With Minor to Medium 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 alterations won’t produce superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Instead, they simply appear to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The evidence that hearing loss can alter the brains of children certainly has implications beyond childhood. The vast majority of people living with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss itself is usually a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Some evidence suggests that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain areas of the brain. Other evidence has connected neglected hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain whether the other senses are modified by hearing loss we do know it modifies the brain.
Individuals from around the country have anecdotally backed this up.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
It’s more than superficial information that loss of hearing can have such a major impact on the brain. It reminds us all of the relevant and inherent relationships between your brain and your senses.
There can be obvious and significant mental health problems when hearing loss develops. Being informed of those effects can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take steps to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will determine how much your loss of hearing will physically change your brain (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But there’s no doubt that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.