When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little bit differently than it otherwise might. Surprised? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes as a result of injury or trauma. But the fact is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
Most people have heard that when one sense decreases the others become more powerful. The well-known example is usually vision: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
There may be some truth to this but it hasn’t been established scientifically. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to debate how much this is valid in adults, but we do 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 even mild hearing loss can have an influence on the brain’s architecture.
How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain
A certain amount of brainpower is devoted to each sense when they are all functioning. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all use a specific amount of brain space. 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 proven that the brain modified its structure in children with advanced hearing loss. The space that would normally be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual cognition. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Causes Changes
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with mild to moderate hearing loss too.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to lead to substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Instead, they simply seem to help people adjust to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The evidence that loss of hearing can change the brains of children certainly has repercussions beyond childhood. The great majority of individuals living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is often a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is hearing loss altering their brains, too?
Noise damage, based on some evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular 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 confirmed hearing loss improves your other senses, it does influence the brain.
People from around the country have anecdotally borne this out.
Your Overall Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
It’s more than trivial information that loss of hearing can have such a significant impact on the brain. It calls attention to all of the vital and inherent relationships between your senses and your brain.
When hearing loss develops, there are usually significant and noticeable mental health impacts. Being conscious of those impacts can help you be prepared for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take steps to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your hearing loss will physically modify your brain (including your age, older brains usually firm up that structure and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But you can be certain that neglected hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter what your age.