A common misconception is that losing one of your five senses will strengthen your remaining senses. Unsurprisingly, the truth is significantly more complicated than this, particularly in the case of hearing loss. Recent studies have shed light on how neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganise neuron connections, assists our brain in adapting to hearing loss; however, this isn’t necessarily a good thing, as it can negatively impact your brain’s ability to perform other functions. Here is how your brain adapts when you experience hearing loss.
How does hearing loss change the brain?
A study conducted by the University of Colorado’s Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science in 2015 researched how the brain evolves after hearing loss and the subsequent implications. The participants consisted of children and adults with varying degrees of hearing loss, from mild to severe. Sensors were placed on each subject’s scalp, allowing researchers to monitor how their brains responded to sound stimulation. Researchers then compared how the brains of people with various degrees of hearing loss responded to sound in comparison to people with normal hearing.
The results from this study revealed that when people experience hearing loss, the areas of their brain that are responsible for senses such as touch and vision will essentially take over the centres of the brain that are dedicated to hearing. This ability of the brain to compensate for lost senses is referred to as cross-modal cortical reorganisation and confirms that the brain can rewire itself to adapt to losing senses.
The bad news
While the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganise is a remarkable feat, cross-modal cortical reorganisation can also be bad news for your overall brain function. This is because the brain’s compensatory solution causes the areas of the brain dedicated to higher level thinking to take over control for the weaker areas, which can render them unable to carry out their primary function.
For example, in the case of hearing loss, cross-modal cortical reorganisation negatively impacts the brain’s ability to process sound and discern speech, causing the hearing areas of the brain to weaken. Therefore, the areas of the brain that are typically responsible for higher level decision-making compensate for this by only becoming activated when processing sounds. These changes can make it challenging for the brain to handle its new workload, particularly for aging adults.
Stay on top of your hearing health with The Art of Hearing
The brain begins to reorganise itself even in the early stages of hearing loss. Therefore, regardless of the degree of hearing loss, early intervention is fundamental in maintaining peak cognitive function and preventing subsequent long-term cognitive decline. If you are concerned that you have hearing loss or if you are simply due for a routine hearing check, our expert team of Perth audiologists at The Art of Hearing will help you stay on top of your hearing health. Book an appointment online through The Art of Hearing website or call us on (08) 9390 8811.