When you’re born with hearing loss, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise would. Does that surprise you? That’s because our ideas about the brain aren’t always accurate. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes as a result of trauma or damage. But the reality is that brains are somewhat more…dynamic.
Hearing Affects Your Brain
You’ve likely heard of the idea that, as one sense diminishes, the other four senses will grow more powerful in order to counterbalance. Vision is the most well known instance: as you begin to lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become super powerful as a counterbalance.
There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been proven scientifically. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is an open question.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, altering 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 even moderate hearing loss can have an effect on the brain’s architecture.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are functioning, the brain devotes a certain 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 space. A lot of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely flexible) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.
It’s already been verified that the brain modified its architecture in children with high degrees of hearing loss. The space that would normally be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. The brain gives more space and more power to the senses that are providing the most information.
Minor to Medium Hearing Loss Also Causes Modifications
Children who have minor to moderate hearing loss, surprisingly, have also been observed to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to produce significant behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Helping individuals adapt to loss of hearing appears to be a more practical interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The change in the brains of children certainly has far reaching consequences. Loss of hearing is commonly a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means most people suffering from it are adults. Are their brains also being altered by hearing loss?
Some evidence suggests that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain areas of the brain. Hearing loss has been connected, according to other evidence, with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So even though it’s not certain if the other senses are modified by hearing loss we do know it modifies the brain.
Individuals from around the country have anecdotally borne this out.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your General Health
It’s more than superficial information that loss of hearing can have such a substantial effect on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are inherently linked.
When loss of hearing develops, there are usually substantial and obvious mental health effects. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be aware of them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take action to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your hearing loss will physically change your brain (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But regardless of your age or how extreme your hearing loss is, neglected hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.