Your brain develops in a different way than normal if you’re born with hearing loss. Surprised? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always valid. You may think that only injury or trauma can alter your brain. But the fact is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
The majority of people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others become stronger. The popular example is usually vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become ultra powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but like all good myths, there might be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is an open question.
CT scans and other research on children who have hearing loss demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, altering 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 influence on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
A certain amount of brainpower is committed 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 so on. When your young, your brain is very pliable and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain changed its overall architecture. Instead of being committed to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be devoted to vision. The brain gives more space and more power to the senses that are delivering the most information.
Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Modifications
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with minor to medium loss of hearing also.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to translate into substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Helping individuals adjust to loss of hearing seems to be a more practical interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The alteration in the brains of children certainly has far reaching consequences. The vast majority of people dealing with hearing loss 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?
Some research indicates that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So although it’s not certain if the other senses are modified by hearing loss we do know it modifies the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the US.
Your Overall Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
It’s more than superficial insight that loss of hearing can have such a significant effect on the brain. It reminds us all of the essential and intrinsic relationships between your senses and your brain.
When loss of hearing develops, there are often considerable and obvious mental health impacts. Being mindful of those effects can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take action to preserve your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your loss of hearing will physically change your brain (including how old you are, older brains tend to firm up that structure and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how severe your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.