When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise might. Is that surprising to you? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes due to damage or trauma. But the fact is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
The majority of people have heard that when one sense decreases the others become stronger. Vision is the most well known instance: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but as is the case with all good myths, there could be a nugget of truth in there somewhere. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by loss of hearing. It’s open to debate how much this is the case in adults, but we know it’s true with children.
CT scans and other research on children with hearing loss demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, transforming the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even minor hearing loss can have an impact 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 working. A specific amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. A lot of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been verified that the brain changed its structure in children with high degrees of hearing loss. Instead of being committed to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be committed to vision. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are offering the most input.
Minor to Moderate Hearing Loss Also Causes Modifications
Children who have mild to medium hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t cause superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adapt to loss of hearing appears to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. The vast majority of people living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss itself is usually a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is loss of hearing changing their brains, too?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular regions 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 confirmed hearing loss improves your other senses, it does influence the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from people across the US.
Your General Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
That loss of hearing can have such an enormous influence on the brain is more than simple superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are usually substantial and obvious mental health impacts. Being aware of those effects can help you be prepared for them. And being prepared will help you 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 leading factor because older brains have a harder time establishing 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.