When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little bit differently than it normally would. Shocked? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always correct. You may think that only injury or trauma can alter your brain. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
Most people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others get more powerful. Vision is the most popular example: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but as is the case with all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth somewhere in there. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to debate how much this holds true in adults, but we know it’s true in children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, has been shown by CT scans to change, transforming the part of the brain normally responsible for interpreting sounds to be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even mild hearing loss can have an impact on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is dedicated to each sense when they are all functioning. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a certain amount of brain space. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely flexible) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been proven that the brain changed its architecture in children with advanced hearing loss. Instead of being committed to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be committed to vision. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Modifications With Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing
Children who have mild to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to produce substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Alternatively, they simply appear to help individuals adapt to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that hearing loss can alter the brains of children definitely has repercussions beyond childhood. The great majority of individuals living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is commonly a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss altering their brains, as well?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in certain regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been linked, according to other evidence, with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although we haven’t proven hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does impact the brain.
People from around the country have anecdotally borne this out.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That loss of hearing can have such an enormous effect on the brain is more than basic superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are commonly substantial and recognizable mental health impacts. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be aware of them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to preserve your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your loss of hearing will physically modify your brain ((age is a major factor because older brains have a tougher time creating new neural pathways). But there’s no doubt that untreated hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter what your age.