When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise might. Surprised? That’s because we often have false ideas about brain development. 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 most likely heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful to compensate. The popular example is always vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become very powerful as a counterbalance.
There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been verified scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is changed by hearing loss. It’s open to debate how much this is valid in adults, but we know it’s true with children.
CT scans and other research on children with hearing loss demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even moderate hearing loss can have an effect on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
A specific amount of brainpower is dedicated to each sense when they are all working. The interpretation of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a specific amount of brain power. Much of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely flexible) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.
Established literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain modified its overall architecture. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Changes
Children who have mild to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
These brain alterations won’t result in superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adapt to hearing loss appears to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is commonly a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by hearing loss?
Some research indicates that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain areas of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So while it’s not certain whether the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it alters the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from people across the US.
The Influence of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That hearing loss can have such a major impact on the brain is more than simple superficial information. It calls attention to all of the relevant and intrinsic connections between your brain and your senses.
When loss of hearing develops, there are commonly significant and noticeable mental health impacts. Being mindful of those effects can help you prepare for 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 modify your brain (including how old you are, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But you can be certain that untreated hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.