Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Does that surprise you? That’s because we typically think about brains in the wrong way. You may think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But brains are really more dynamic than that.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
You’ve likely heard of the notion that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will become more powerful in order to counterbalance. The well-known example is usually vision: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become very powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but like all good myths, there could be a sliver of truth in there somewhere. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is changed by loss of hearing. It’s open to debate how much this is the case in adults, but we know it’s true in children.
CT scans and other research on children who have loss of hearing show that their brains physically change their structures, changing 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 even moderate hearing loss can have an effect 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 functioning. A specific amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. When your young, your brain is very pliable and that’s when these pathways are being formed and this architecture is being set up.
It’s already been verified that the brain changed its architecture in children with high degrees of hearing loss. Instead of being devoted to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be dedicated to vision. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Causes Changes
Children who have minor to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to cause substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Helping people adjust to loss of hearing seems to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The alteration in the brains of children definitely has far reaching repercussions. Loss of hearing is normally a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means most people suffering from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by loss of hearing?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been connected, according to other evidence, with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain whether the other senses are enhanced by hearing loss we do know it alters the brain.
Families from around the US have anecdotally backed this up.
Your General Health is Influenced by Hearing Loss
It’s more than superficial information that hearing loss can have such a substantial impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically linked.
There can be noticeable and substantial mental health issues when hearing loss develops. Being informed of those impacts can help you be prepared for them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take steps to preserve your quality of life.
Many factors will determine how much your hearing loss will physically alter 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, neglected hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.