Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Does that surprise you? That’s because we commonly think about brains in the wrong way. You may think that only damage or trauma can alter your brain. But the truth is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve most likely heard of the concept that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will become more powerful in order to counterbalance. Vision is the most popular example: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven in the medical literature, but like all good myths, there might be a sliver of truth somewhere in there. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by hearing loss. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is an open question.
CT scans and other studies of children with hearing loss demonstrate that their brains physically change their structures, altering 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 influence on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is committed to each sense when they are all working. The interpretation of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a certain amount of brain power. Much of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely pliable) because that’s when you’re first establishing all of these neural pathways.
Established literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain changed its general structure. Instead of being devoted to hearing, that area in the brain is restructured to be devoted to vision. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Modifications With Minor to Medium Hearing Loss
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with minor to moderate hearing loss also.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to translate into significant behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Alternatively, they simply seem to help people adapt to hearing loss.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The research that hearing loss can change the brains of children certainly has implications beyond childhood. Hearing loss is commonly an outcome of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that most people who suffer from it are adults. Is hearing loss changing their brains, too?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular parts of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though we haven’t confirmed hearing loss improves your other senses, it does impact the brain.
Families from around the country have anecdotally backed this up.
The Influence of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health
It’s more than superficial information that hearing loss can have such a significant impact on the brain. It reminds us all of the relevant and intrinsic relationships between your brain and your senses.
When hearing loss develops, there are commonly substantial and obvious mental health impacts. Being aware of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take steps 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 (including how old you are, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how serious your loss of hearing is, untreated hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.