Your brain develops in a different way than normal if you’re born with hearing loss. Does that surprise you? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always accurate. You may think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But the fact is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
You’ve probably heard of the notion that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will become more powerful in order to counterbalance. The popular example is always vision: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been established scientifically. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can apply this to adults is an open question.
CT scans and other research on children with loss of hearing demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, transforming the part of the brain normally responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be impacted by even slight hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are functioning, the brain devotes a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a certain amount of brain power. 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 validated that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain modified its general structure. The space that would in most cases be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual cognition. Whichever senses deliver the most information is where the brain devotes most of its resources.
Modifications With Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to medium loss of hearing too.
These brain alterations won’t lead to superpowers or significant behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping people adjust to hearing loss appears to be a more accurate interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has implications beyond childhood. Hearing loss is frequently an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that the majority of people suffering from it are adults. Is loss of hearing modifying their brains, too?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in certain areas of the brain. Hearing loss has been connected, according to other evidence, with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So even though we haven’t proven hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does impact the brain.
Families from around the country have anecdotally backed this up.
Your General Health is Affected by Hearing Loss
It’s more than trivial information that hearing loss can have such a major effect on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are inherently linked.
There can be noticeable and considerable mental health issues when hearing loss develops. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be mindful of them. And being prepared will help you take action to preserve your quality of life.
How much your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on a myriad of factors ((age is a significant factor because older brains have a more difficult time creating new neural pathways). But you can be certain that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter what your age.