Your brain develops in a different way than normal if you’re born with hearing loss. Surprised? That’s because we usually think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes as a result of trauma or damage. But the truth is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve probably heard of the notion that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will grow more powerful to compensate. 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 in the medical literature, but as is the case with all good myths, there might be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is true in adults, but we do know it’s true in children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, 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 the brain’s architecture can be influenced by even moderate loss of hearing.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is devoted to each sense when they are all functioning. A certain amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. Much 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 changed its general structure. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be dedicated to vision. The brain gives more space and more power to the senses that are providing the most information.
Minor to Medium Hearing Loss Also Triggers Modifications
Children who have minor to medium hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been observed 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. Helping people adjust to hearing loss seems to be a more practical interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that loss of hearing can change the brains of children certainly has ramifications beyond childhood. Hearing loss is normally a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Is loss of hearing altering their brains, too?
Some research indicates that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while we haven’t verified hearing loss improves 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 Overall Health
It’s more than superficial insight that hearing loss can have such a major impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically linked.
There can be noticeable and substantial mental health problems 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 much your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on numerous factors (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how serious your hearing loss is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.