When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little bit differently than it normally would. Is that surprising to you? That’s because we often have false ideas about brain development. You may think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But brains are actually more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
Most people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others become stronger. Vision is the most well known instance: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but like all good myths, there may be a nugget of truth in there somewhere. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is valid in adults, but we know it’s true with children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, transforming the part of the brain normally 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 influenced by even moderate hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A certain amount of brainpower is dedicated to each sense when they are all functioning. A specific amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. When your young, your brain is very flexible 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 advanced hearing loss. The space that would normally be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual perception. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are providing the most input.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Changes
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to medium hearing loss also.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to translate into substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Instead, they simply appear to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that hearing loss can alter the brains of children definitely has implications beyond childhood. The great majority of individuals dealing with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss itself is often 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 certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has associated untreated hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although we haven’t verified hearing loss improves your other senses, it does influence the brain.
People from around the country have anecdotally backed this up.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That loss of hearing can have such a major effect on the brain is more than basic superficial information. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are inherently linked.
When hearing loss develops, there are usually significant and noticeable mental health effects. Being aware of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to maintain your quality of life.
How drastically your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on several factors ((age is a leading factor because older brains have a more difficult time establishing new neural pathways). But you can be certain that untreated hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter what your age.