Your brain develops in a different way than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Surprised? That’s because we normally think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes as a result of trauma or damage. But the fact is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
Most people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others become stronger. Vision is the most well known example: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
There may be some truth to this but it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is changed by hearing loss. It’s open to question how much this is valid in adults, but we know it’s true with children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from hearing loss, has been shown 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 influence on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
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. When your young, your brain is very pliable and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
Established literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain modified its general architecture. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be committed to vision. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Minor to Moderate Hearing Loss Also Triggers Modifications
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with minor to medium loss of hearing also.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to produce significant behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Helping individuals adapt to hearing loss seems to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is normally an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means most people who suffer from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Some evidence indicates that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Other evidence has associated untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though we haven’t confirmed hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does influence the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from people across the country.
Your General Health is Affected by Hearing Loss
That hearing loss can have such a substantial influence on the brain is more than basic superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically linked.
When loss of hearing develops, there are usually substantial and noticeable mental health effects. 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 determine how much your hearing loss will physically change your brain ((age is a major factor because older brains have a more difficult time creating new neural pathways). But there’s no doubt that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.