When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little bit differently than it normally would. Does that surprise you? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always accurate. You may think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But the fact is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
The majority of people have heard that when one sense decreases the others become more powerful. The well-known example is always vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become very powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but like all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth somewhere in there. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by hearing loss. It’s open to debate how much this holds true in adults, but we do know it’s true with children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from loss of hearing, 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
When all five senses are working, the brain devotes a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. A specific 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 incredibly pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been confirmed that the brain modified its structure in children with advanced hearing loss. Instead of being committed to hearing, that space in the brain is restructured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Modifications
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with minor to moderate hearing loss also.
These brain changes won’t cause superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Instead, they simply appear to help people adapt to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that hearing loss can alter the brains of children certainly has ramifications beyond childhood. The great majority of people dealing with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss in general is commonly a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is loss of hearing changing their brains, too?
Some evidence indicates that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Other evidence has associated neglected hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though we haven’t verified hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does influence the brain.
Families from around the US have anecdotally backed this up.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
It’s more than superficial information that hearing loss can have such an important influence on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are inherently linked.
There can be obvious and significant mental health problems when hearing loss develops. Being aware of those impacts can help you prepare 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 loss of hearing will physically change your brain (including your age, older brains tend to firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how serious your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.