Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with hearing loss. Surprised? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always accurate. You might think that only injury or trauma can change your brain. But the reality is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve likely heard of the idea that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will become more powerful in order to compensate. Vision is the most popular example: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become ultra powerful as a counterbalance.
There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been confirmed scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is changed by hearing loss. It’s open to question how much this holds true in adults, but we know it’s true with children.
CT scans and other research on children who have hearing loss reveal that their brains physically alter their structures, transforming the part of the brain usually 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 loss of hearing.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
When all five senses are working, the brain dedicates a certain 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 etc. Much of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been verified that the brain changed its architecture in children with high degrees of hearing loss. The space that would in most cases be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to better help with visual cognition. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Changes With Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to moderate loss of hearing too.
Make no mistake, these changes in the brain aren’t going to result in significant behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Helping people adjust to hearing loss seems to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The evidence that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has repercussions beyond childhood. The vast majority of people dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss itself is commonly a consequence of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss altering their brains, as well?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in certain parts of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain whether the other senses are enhanced by hearing loss we do know it changes the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from families across the country.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
That hearing loss can have such a substantial effect on the brain is more than basic superficial information. It calls attention to all of the essential and inherent links between your brain and your senses.
When hearing loss develops, there are often considerable and recognizable mental health impacts. Being conscious of those effects can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take steps to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your hearing loss will physically alter your brain (including how old you are, older brains usually firm up that structure and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how serious your hearing loss is, neglected hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.