Little Changes in Hearing Can Impact Your Brain

Woman doing crossword puzzle and wearing hearing aid to improve her brain.

When you’re born with loss of hearing, your brain develops a little differently than it otherwise would. Surprised? That’s because we commonly think about brains in the wrong way. You may think that only injury or trauma can change your brain. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.

Your Brain is Impacted by Hearing

The majority of people have heard that when one sense decreases the others become more powerful. Vision is the most popular instance: as you begin to lose your vision, your taste, smell, and hearing will become very powerful as a counterbalance.

There could be some truth to this but it hasn’t been confirmed scientifically. Because the architecture of your brain can be and is altered by loss of hearing. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is uncertain.

The physical structure of children’s brains, who suffer from hearing loss, has been demonstrated by CT scans to change, changing the part of the brain usually responsible for interpreting sounds to instead be more sensitive to visual information.

The newest studies have gone on to discover that even moderate loss of hearing can have an influence on the brain’s architecture.

How Hearing Loss Changes The Brain

When all five senses are working, the brain dedicates a certain amount of space (and power) to each one. The interpretation 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 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 architecture. The space that would in most cases be devoted to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual cognition. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are delivering the most information.

Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing Also Triggers Modifications

What’s unexpected is that this same rearrangement has been discovered in children with mild to moderate hearing loss too.

These brain alterations won’t result in superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Instead, they simply appear to help people adapt to hearing loss.

A Relationship That Has Been Strong For a Long Time

The change in the brains of children certainly has far reaching consequences. The great majority of people living with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss itself is commonly a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being altered by loss of hearing?

Some evidence reveals that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain regions of the brain. Other evidence has linked untreated hearing loss with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So although it’s not certain if the other senses are modified by hearing loss we are sure it changes the brain.

Families from around the US have anecdotally backed this up.

The Impact of Hearing Loss on Your Overall Health

It’s more than superficial insight that loss of hearing can have such a significant influence on the brain. It reminds us all of the essential and intrinsic links between your senses and your brain.

There can be noticeable and considerable mental health issues when hearing loss develops. Being mindful of those effects can help you prepare for them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take steps to protect your quality of life.

How drastically your brain physically changes with the start of hearing loss will depend on several factors (including your age, older brains commonly firm up that structure and new neural pathways are harder to establish as a result). 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 how old you are.

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