Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Surprised? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always correct. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes due to injury or trauma. But the truth 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 well-known example is always vision: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but like all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth in there somewhere. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by hearing loss. It’s open to question how much this is the case in adults, but we do know it’s true in children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from hearing loss, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, transforming the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be impacted by even mild hearing loss.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are functioning, the brain devotes a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. A certain amount of brain space 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 developed and this architecture is being set up.
It’s already been verified that the brain altered its structure in children with high degrees of hearing loss. Instead of being committed to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Modifications With Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing
Children who suffer from minor to moderate loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
These brain changes won’t lead to superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Rather, they simply seem to help individuals adjust to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that hearing loss can alter the brains of children certainly has implications beyond childhood. Hearing loss is frequently a consequence of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Is hearing loss changing their brains, too?
Some evidence indicates that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Other evidence has connected untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain if the other senses are improved by hearing loss we do know it alters the brain.
People from around the country have anecdotally backed this up.
The Influence of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
It’s more than trivial 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 intrinsically connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are usually significant and noticeable mental health impacts. Being aware of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to protect your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on a myriad of factors (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But there’s no doubt that untreated hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.