Your brain develops differently than normal if you’re born with loss of hearing. Is that surprising to 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 due to damage or trauma. But brains are actually more dynamic than that.
Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing
The majority of people have heard that when one sense diminishes the others get more powerful. Vision is the most well known example: as you begin to lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become super powerful as a counterbalance.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but as is the case with all good myths, there might be a nugget of truth in there somewhere. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by hearing loss. It’s open to question how much this is true in adults, but we do know it’s true in children.
The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from loss of hearing, has been shown by CT scans to change, changing the hearing centers of the brain to visual centers.
The newest studies have gone on to discover that the brain’s architecture can be effected by even mild hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
A specific amount of brainpower is dedicated to each sense when they are all functioning. A specific amount of brain space 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 formed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain altered its general structure. The space that would normally be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are providing the most input.
Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss Also Causes Changes
What’s surprising is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to moderate loss of hearing also.
Make no mistake, these changes in the brain aren’t going to lead to substantial behavioral changes and they won’t produce superpowers. Helping people adapt to loss of hearing seems to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time
The research that loss of hearing can alter the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. Loss of hearing is commonly a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage which means the majority of 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 regions of the brain. Other evidence has connected neglected hearing loss with higher risks for anxiety, dementia, and depression. So while it’s not certain whether the other senses are modified by hearing loss we are sure it changes the brain.
That’s borne out by anecdotal evidence from individuals across the country.
Your Overall Health is Impacted by Hearing Loss
It’s more than trivial insight that loss of hearing can have such a major effect on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically linked.
When hearing loss develops, there are often considerable and obvious mental health impacts. Being aware of those impacts can help you prepare for them. And the more prepared you are, the more you can take steps to preserve your quality of life.
Many factors will define how much your loss of hearing will physically modify your brain ((age is a major factor because older brains have a harder time creating new neural pathways). But regardless of your age or how extreme your loss of hearing is, neglected hearing loss will absolutely have an effect on your brain.