Your brain develops differently than it normally would if you’re born with hearing loss. Is that surprising to you? That’s because we usually think about brains in the wrong way. You may think that only damage or trauma can alter your brain. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
You’ve probably heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful to compensate. The well-known example is always vision: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been verified scientifically. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is valid in adults, but we know it’s true with children.
CT scans and other studies of children with hearing loss reveal that their brains physically change their structures, changing the part of the brain normally responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be effected by even slight hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is devoted to each sense when they are all working. A certain amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. When your young, your brain is extremely flexible and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
Established literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain modified its general architecture. The space that would normally be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Minor to Medium Hearing Loss Also Triggers Changes
Children who have minor to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t cause superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping people adjust to loss of hearing seems to be a more practical interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that hearing loss can change the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. Hearing loss is normally a consequence of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means most people suffering from it are adults. Is hearing loss changing their brains, too?
Some evidence suggests that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain regions of the brain. Other evidence has connected untreated hearing loss with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although it’s not certain whether the other senses are enhanced by hearing loss we are sure it modifies the brain.
Families from around the US have anecdotally backed this up.
Your Overall Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
It’s more than superficial insight that loss of hearing can have such a substantial influence on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are inherently linked.
There can be noticeable and considerable mental health problems when hearing loss develops. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be mindful of them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to maintain your quality of life.
Many factors will determine how much your loss of hearing will physically alter your brain ((age is a major factor because older brains have a harder time developing new neural pathways). But regardless of your age or how serious your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.