Your brain develops differently than it normally would if you’re born with loss of hearing. Shocked? That’s because we typically think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes due to trauma or damage. But brains are in fact 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 example: 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 in the medical literature, but like all good myths, there could be a sliver of truth somewhere in there. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is true in adults, but we do know it’s true in children.
CT scans and other research on children with hearing loss demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that even mild hearing loss can have an influence on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are working, the brain devotes a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. A certain amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely flexible) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been verified that the brain altered its architecture in children with advanced hearing loss. The space that would usually be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual perception. The brain gives more space and more power to the senses that are delivering the most input.
Changes With Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with minor to moderate loss of hearing also.
These brain alterations won’t lead to superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping people adapt to hearing loss appears to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that hearing loss can alter the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. Hearing loss is normally a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means the majority of people who suffer from it are adults. Are their brains also being altered by hearing loss?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though it’s not certain if the other senses are improved by hearing loss we are sure it modifies the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from families across the US.
Your Overall Health is Influenced by Hearing Loss
That hearing loss can have such an enormous influence on the brain is more than simple trivial insight. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically linked.
There can be noticeable and substantial mental health issues when hearing loss develops. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be cognizant of them. And being prepared will help you take 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 tend to firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But you can be certain that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter what your age.