Your brain develops in a different way than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Shocked? That’s because we typically think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes as a result of damage or trauma. But the fact is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve probably heard of the concept that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to counterbalance. Vision is the most popular instance: as you begin to lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become very powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but as is the case with all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth in there somewhere. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to debate how much this is true in adults, but we do know it’s true with children.
CT scans and other studies of children with hearing loss reveal that their brains physically alter their structures, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even minor loss of hearing can have an effect on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is dedicated 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 pliable and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
It’s already been confirmed that the brain changed its structure in children with advanced hearing loss. 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 Moderate Hearing Loss Also Causes Changes
Children who have mild to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been observed 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 seem to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The modification in the brains of children definitely has far reaching repercussions. The vast majority of individuals dealing with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss in general is commonly a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being altered by loss of hearing?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Hearing loss has been linked, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while we haven’t proven hearing loss improves your other senses, it does impact the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the US.
Your General Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
It’s more than superficial information that hearing loss can have such a major impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are inherently linked.
When hearing loss develops, there are often substantial and obvious mental health effects. 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 define how much your hearing loss will physically change 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 regardless of your age or how extreme your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.