Small Changes in Hearing Can Impact Your Brain

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

Your brain develops differently than it normally would if you’re born with loss of hearing. Shocked? That’s because we normally think about brains in the wrong way. Your mind, you believe, is a static thing: it only changes because of trauma or injury. But the reality is that brains are a little more…dynamic.

Hearing Affects Your Brain

You’ve most likely heard of the notion that, as one sense wanes, the other four senses will grow more powerful to compensate. Vision is the most popular example: as you begin to lose your vision, your hearing and smell and taste will become ultra powerful as a counterbalance.

There might be some truth to this but it hasn’t been established scientifically. Because hearing loss, for example, can and does alter the sensory architecture of your brain. It’s open to question how much this is true in adults, but we do know it’s true with children.

CT scans and other studies of children with loss of hearing reveal that their brains physically alter their structures, transforming 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

A certain amount of brainpower is dedicated to each sense when they are all working. The interpretation of touch, or taste, or vision and so on, all make use of a specific amount of brain power. A lot of this architecture is developed when you’re young (the brains of children are incredibly flexible) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.

Established literature had already validated that in children with total or near-total loss of hearing, the brain modified its general architecture. Instead of being dedicated to hearing, that area in the brain is reconfigured to be dedicated to vision. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are offering the most input.

Minor to Moderate Loss of Hearing Also Causes Changes

Children who have minor to medium loss of hearing, surprisingly, have also been seen to show these same rearrangements.

These brain changes won’t produce superpowers or substantial behavioral changes, to be clear. Helping individuals adapt to loss of hearing seems to be a more practical 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 implications beyond childhood. The vast majority of individuals dealing with loss of hearing are adults, and the hearing loss itself is usually a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Is loss of hearing modifying their brains, as well?

Noise damage, according to evidence, can actually trigger inflammation in certain areas of the brain. Other evidence has connected neglected hearing loss with higher chances for dementia, depression, and anxiety. So although we haven’t proven hearing loss boosts your other senses, it does affect the brain.

People from around the country have anecdotally borne this out.

The Affect of Hearing Loss on Your General Health

It’s more than superficial insight that hearing loss can have such a substantial effect on the brain. It’s a reminder that the brain and the senses are intrinsically connected.

When hearing loss develops, there are commonly substantial and obvious mental health impacts. Being mindful of those effects can help you prepare for them. And being prepared will help you take steps to maintain your quality of life.

How drastically your brain physically changes with the onset of hearing loss will depend on numerous factors ((age is a significant factor because older brains have a harder time developing new neural pathways). But regardless of your age or how severe your hearing loss is, untreated hearing loss will definitely have an effect on your brain.