When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little bit differently than it otherwise might. Does that surprise you? That’s because we commonly think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static thing: it only changes as a result of trauma or damage. But the fact is that brains are a little more…dynamic.
Your Brain is Affected by Hearing
You’ve most likely heard of the idea that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will become more powerful to compensate. The popular example is usually vision: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become more powerful to compensate for loss of vision.
That hasn’t been proven scientifically, but as is the case with all good myths, there may be a sliver of truth somewhere in there. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to debate how much this is true in adults, but we know it’s true in children.
CT scans and other research on children with hearing loss show that their brains physically change their structures, transforming 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 the brain’s architecture can be impacted by even mild hearing loss.
How The Brain is Changed by Hearing Loss
When all five senses are working, the brain dedicates a specific amount of space (and power) to each one. A certain amount of brain space goes towards interpreting touch, a certain amount towards hearing or vision, and so on. When your young, your brain is very pliable and that’s when these pathways are being developed and this architecture is being set up.
Conventional literature had already verified that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain altered its general architecture. Instead of being devoted to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be devoted to vision. Whichever senses supply the most information is where the brain applies most of its resources.
Changes With Mild to Moderate Loss of Hearing
What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been observed in children with mild to medium hearing loss also.
Make no mistake, these modifications in the brain aren’t going to cause substantial behavioral changes and they won’t lead to superpowers. Helping individuals adjust to hearing loss seems to be a more realistic interpretation.
A Long and Strong Relationship
The change in the brains of children undoubtedly has far reaching consequences. Loss of hearing is frequently a result of long term noise related or age related hearing damage meaning that most people who suffer from it are adults. Are their brains also being changed by loss of hearing?
Some evidence suggests that noise damage can actually cause inflammation in particular parts of the brain. Other evidence has associated untreated hearing loss with higher risks for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So while it’s not certain if the other senses are improved 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
It’s more than superficial insight that hearing loss can have such a significant impact on the brain. It’s a reminder that the senses and the brain are intrinsically connected.
When hearing loss develops, there are commonly substantial and recognizable mental health effects. In order to be prepared for these consequences you need to be aware of them. And being prepared will help you take the appropriate steps to protect your quality of life.
Many factors will determine how much your loss of hearing will physically modify your brain ((age is a leading factor because older brains have a more difficult time developing new neural pathways). But there’s no doubt that neglected hearing loss will have an effect on your brain, no matter how mild it is, and no matter what your age.