When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it normally would. Does that surprise you? That’s because we usually have false ideas about brain development. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes due to trauma or injury. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
The majority of people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others get more powerful. Vision is the most well known example: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been confirmed 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 extrapolate to adults is uncertain.
CT scans and other studies of children with hearing loss demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be influenced by even mild hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are working, the brain dedicates a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. A certain amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
Conventional literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain altered its general architecture. The space that would in most cases be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual cognition. The brain gives more space and more power to the senses that are offering the most input.
Modifications With Minor to Medium Hearing Loss
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with minor to moderate loss of hearing too.
Make no mistake, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to cause significant behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Rather, they simply appear to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The change in the brains of children certainly has far reaching consequences. Hearing loss is commonly a consequence of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Are their brains also being altered by hearing loss?
Some evidence suggests that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in particular parts of the brain. Other evidence has linked neglected hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though it’s not certain whether the other senses are enhanced by hearing loss we do know it changes the brain.
Individuals from around the US have anecdotally backed this up.
Your General Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
That hearing loss can have such a substantial effect on the brain is more than basic superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically linked.
There can be noticeable and significant mental health issues when hearing loss develops. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be cognizant of them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take steps to protect your quality of life.
How substantially your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on numerous factors ((age is a significant factor because older brains have a tougher time creating new neural pathways). 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 how old you are.