When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it otherwise might. Shocked? That’s because we normally have false ideas about brain development. You might think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
Most people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others become stronger. The popular example is usually vision: as you lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become ultra powerful as a counterbalance.
There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that happens in children, how much we can apply this to adults is an open question.
CT scans and other research on children with loss of hearing reveal that their brains physically alter 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 moderate loss of hearing can have an impact on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is committed to each sense when they are all functioning. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all make use of a certain amount of brain space. Much of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely pliable) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.
Conventional literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain changed its overall architecture. The space that would normally be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Causes Changes
Children who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
These brain changes won’t produce superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Instead, they simply seem to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has implications beyond childhood. The vast majority of people dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is often a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being changed by loss of hearing?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So although it’s not certain if the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it changes the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the US.
Your General Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
It’s more than trivial insight that hearing loss can have such a substantial impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are inherently linked.
There can be obvious and substantial mental health issues when loss of hearing develops. Being conscious of those impacts can help you be prepared for them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take action to protect your quality of life.
How substantially your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on a myriad of factors (including how old you are, older brains usually firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how extreme your loss of hearing is, neglected hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.