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 normal if you’re born with hearing loss. Does that surprise you? That’s because our concepts about the brain aren’t always valid. Your mind, you tell yourself, is a static object: it only changes because of injury or trauma. But brains are in fact more dynamic than that.

Hearing Impacts Your Brain

The majority of people have heard that when one sense decreases the others get stronger. Vision is the most well known example: your senses of smell, taste, and hearing will become stronger to compensate for loss of vision.

There may be some truth to this but it hasn’t been confirmed scientifically. Because loss of hearing, for example, can and does change the sensory architecture of your brain. At least we know that occurs in children, how much we can extrapolate to adults is an open question.

CT scans and other research on children with loss of hearing show that their brains physically alter their structures, transforming 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 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 working, the brain devotes a certain 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. Much of this architecture is established when you’re young (the brains of children are extremely flexible) because that’s when you’re first developing all of these neural pathways.

Conventional literature had already confirmed that in children with total or near-total hearing loss, the brain altered its overall structure. The space that would in most cases be dedicated to hearing is instead reconfigured to boost visual perception. The brain devotes more power and space to the senses that are offering the most input.

Modifications With Mild to Medium Loss of Hearing

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

To be clear, these changes in the brain aren’t going to lead to 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 evidence that loss of hearing can change the brains of children definitely has ramifications beyond childhood. The vast majority of people dealing with hearing loss are adults, and the hearing loss itself is frequently a direct result of long-term noise or age-related damage. Are their brains also being altered by hearing loss?

Some evidence reveals that noise damage can actually trigger inflammation in certain regions of the brain. Hearing loss has been associated, according to other evidence, with higher chances 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 US.

Your General Health is Influenced by Hearing Loss

That loss of hearing can have such an enormous effect on the brain is more than simple trivial information. It calls attention to all of the relevant and intrinsic links between your brain and your senses.

When hearing loss develops, there are usually significant and obvious mental health effects. So that you can be prepared for these consequences you need to be aware of them. And the more educated you are, the more you can take the appropriate steps to preserve your quality of life.

Many factors will define how much your hearing loss will physically alter your brain ((age is a leading factor because older brains have a more difficult time establishing new neural pathways). But you can be certain that untreated hearing loss will have an influence on your brain, regardless of how mild it is, and no matter how old you are.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.