Do certain impairments affect other abilities/senses, e.g. does blindness lead to enhanced hearing, do they just get better because the brain is less busy with other stuff?

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Do certain impairments affect other abilities/senses, e.g. does blindness lead to enhanced hearing, do they just get better because the brain is less busy with other stuff?

In: Biology

There’s a concept called neuroplasticity. It means that your brain (neuro-) is flexible (-plasticity), to a degree. So the brain of someone who’s lost one sense may try to retrain itself to provide additional resources to the other senses. It may “rewire” itself so that the eyesight part of the brain of a now-blind person will tap into hearing and do some “processing” there.

The amount that this can happen isn’t predictable, but it’s been observed to happen, usually through brain scans of the affected people.

Consider this, you’ve gone blind and now you don’t know how to get around anymore. What do you do first? You start learning to use your other senses instead. You learn to be aware of when your foot has brushed something, and you learn to be aware of sounds you didn’t notice before. Your brain isn’t less busy with other stuff, it’s simply more in-tune with the sensory input that it has available.

The consequence of becoming more in-tune with a different set of senses is that your brain will start to become more open to new connections between those senses as well. Your brain wants to find connection between things, but it will always focus on the senses that provide the most benefit. When you lose the most beneficial sense, other senses will suddenly have a chance to grow that they didn’t have before. Why learn to echo-locate like a bat when you have eyes that can see really well? New and often surprising capabilities can be discovered only when we need them.