Hearing Loss and Visual Processing

How does hearing loss affect perception and cognition for other senses?

When someone has hearing loss, they begin to rely on help from other senses to navigate the world. For example, if listening to speech is hard, visual information from a person’s face and mouth can make speech listening easier. This is especially true when a person is trying to listen in a noisy place, like a crowded restaurant or in a workplace. The long-term brain consequences of this multisensory reliance, sculpted by principles of neural plasticity, change the way that visual information is represented: remarkably, brain areas that normally process sound are now activated by visual stimulation. Although these cross-modal neuroplastic changes can affect visual processing, we do not know if hearing loss is associated with the way we attend to and remember visual information, or what the corresponding brain changes might be. 

One line of our research examines how visual information is stored in working memory or impacts the attention system, and how that relates to changes in the brain, and the degree or type of hearing impairment a person has.

Brain recordings (EEG) are made when individuals with different degrees of hearing loss are presented with visual text sentences, word by word. People with more hearing loss have larger  responses to the visual stimuli. One way this could happen is through brain plasticity in the visual system that occurs after hearing loss. This plasticity could help to strengthen visual information processing, helping a person to use vision to navigate their environment and to better perceive objects in it. 

Example research:

Prince, P., Paul, B. T., Chen, J., Le., T., Lin, V. & Dimitrijevic, A. (2021). Neural correlates of visual stimulus encoding and verbal working memory differ between cochlear implant users and normal-hearing controlsEuropean Journal of Neuroscience, 54 (3), 5016-5037 doi:10.1111/ejn.15365

Paul, B. T., Srikanthanathan, A., & Dimitrijevic, A. (In preparation). Loss of high-frequency hearing acuity is associated with modified neural oscillations during visual verbal working memory.