When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it normally would. Does that surprise you? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always correct. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes because of damage or trauma. But the reality is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
The majority of people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others become more powerful. Vision is the most well known instance: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but like all good myths, there might be a sliver of truth in there somewhere. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is valid in adults, but we do know it’s true in children.
CT scans and other research on children who have hearing loss demonstrate that their brains physically alter their structures, transforming the part of the brain usually 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 loss of hearing.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are functioning, the brain dedicates a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. The interpretation of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all make use of a specific amount of brain space. When your young, your brain is very pliable 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 altered its general architecture. Instead of being committed to hearing, that space in the brain is reconfigured to be committed to vision. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Changes With Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing
Children who suffer from minor to medium hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
Make no mistake, these changes in the brain aren’t going to translate into substantial behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Rather, they simply appear to help individuals adjust to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The change in the brains of children definitely has far reaching consequences. The great majority of individuals dealing with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss in general is often a result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being changed by loss of hearing?
Some evidence indicates that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though we haven’t proven hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does impact the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the country.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That hearing loss can have such an enormous influence on the brain is more than simple superficial insight. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are commonly considerable and recognizable mental health effects. Being informed of those effects can help you prepare for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take the appropriate steps to maintain your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on several factors (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But there’s no doubt that neglected hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.