When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise might. Surprised? That’s because we commonly have false ideas about brain development. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static thing: it only changes because of damage or trauma. But the truth is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
You’ve probably heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will become more powerful to compensate. The well-known example is always vision: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been verified scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered 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.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from hearing loss, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, changing 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 even minor hearing loss can have an impact on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
A specific amount of brainpower is committed to each sense when they are all working. A specific amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. When your young, your brain is very flexible and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain changed its general structure. The space that would in most cases be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual cognition. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are delivering the most information.
Changes With Minor to Medium Hearing Loss
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with minor to medium loss of hearing too.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to lead to significant behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Helping individuals adapt to hearing loss seems to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The alteration in the brains of children definitely has far reaching consequences. Loss of hearing is commonly an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Is loss of hearing changing their brains, as well?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Other evidence has connected neglected hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though we haven’t verified hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does impact the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from families across the US.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
That hearing loss can have such an enormous effect on the brain is more than basic superficial information. It reminds us all of the essential and intrinsic relationships between your brain and your senses.
When loss of hearing develops, there are commonly considerable and obvious mental health impacts. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be aware of them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take action to preserve your quality of life.
Many factors will determine how much your hearing loss will physically change your brain (including how old you are, older brains commonly firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But there’s no doubt that neglected hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter what your age.