When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little bit differently than it otherwise would. Shocked? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always correct. You might think that only damage or trauma can change your brain. But the fact is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
You’ve most likely heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to counterbalance. The well-known example is always vision: your senses of hearing, taste, and smell will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but as is the case with all good myths, there might be a nugget of truth somewhere in there. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that happens in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is uncertain.
CT scans and other studies of children with loss of hearing show that their brains physically alter their structures, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
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 functioning. The interpreting of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all utilize a specific amount of brain space. Much of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly pliable) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.
Established literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain modified its general structure. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that space in the brain is reconfigured to be devoted to vision. Whichever senses provide the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Changes With Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to moderate hearing loss also.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to produce substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Instead, they simply seem to help people adapt to hearing loss.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that loss of hearing can change the brains of children certainly has repercussions beyond childhood. The vast majority of people living with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss in general is usually a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is loss of hearing modifying their brains, as well?
Some research reveals that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in particular regions of the brain. Other evidence has linked neglected hearing loss with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although it’s not certain whether the other senses are enhanced by hearing loss we are sure it changes the brain.
That’s backed by anecdotal evidence from families across the country.
Your Overall Health is Influenced by Hearing Loss
That loss of hearing can have such a major impact on the brain is more than simple trivial insight. It reminds us all of the essential and intrinsic connections between your senses and your brain.
When loss of hearing develops, there are often substantial and recognizable mental health impacts. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be cognizant of them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take steps to protect your quality of life.
How drastically your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on several factors (including your age, older brains tend to firm up that structure and new neural pathways are more difficult to establish as a result). But you can be certain that untreated hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.