Your brain develops differently than it normally would if you’re born with loss of hearing. Shocked? That’s because we typically think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you believe, is a static object: it only changes because of trauma or damage. But brains are actually more dynamic than that.
Hearing Impacts Your Brain
Most people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others get more powerful. The well-known example is usually vision: as you lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become very powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but like all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth somewhere in there. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by hearing loss. It’s open to debate how much this is the case in adults, but we do know it’s true with children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who have hearing loss, has been shown by CT scans to change, changing 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 the brain’s architecture can be effected by even moderate hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are functioning, the brain dedicates a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. A certain amount of brain power goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and etc. When your young, your brain is very flexible and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
Established literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain modified its overall structure. Instead of being devoted to hearing, that space in the brain is reconfigured to be devoted to vision. The brain gives more space and more power to the senses that are providing the most input.
Changes With Minor to Moderate Hearing Loss
Children who have mild to moderate loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.
To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to translate into 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 alteration in the brains of children certainly has far reaching repercussions. The vast majority of people living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss in general is usually a result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being altered by hearing loss?
Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually cause inflammation in particular areas of the brain. Hearing loss has been linked, according to other evidence, with higher chances for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So although it’s not certain if the other senses are modified by hearing loss we do know it changes the brain.
Families from around the US have anecdotally borne this out.
Your General Health is Affected by Hearing Loss
That loss of hearing can have such a substantial influence on the brain is more than basic superficial information. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically connected.
There can be obvious and significant mental health problems when loss of hearing develops. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be mindful of them. And being prepared will help you take action to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your hearing loss will physically modify your brain (including how old you are, older brains tend to firm up that architecture and new neural pathways are tougher to establish as a result). But you can be certain that untreated hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter what your age.