The links among various aspects of our health are not always self evident.
Consider high blood pressure as one example. You ordinarily can’t detect elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can steadily injure and narrow your arteries.
The effects of damaged arteries ultimately can result in stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to discover the existence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t perceive high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately understand the link between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure years down the road.
But what we should recognize is that every part of our body and aspect of our physiology is in some way connected to everything else, and that it is our job to protect and enhance all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Much like our blood pressure, we commonly can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we certainly have a more difficult time envisioning the possible link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And while it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is directly associated with dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is revealing to us the exact opposite. Just as increases in blood pressure can damage arteries and cause problems anywhere in the body, hearing loss can reduce stimulation and cause damage to the brain.
In fact, a 2013 study by Johns Hopkins University found that those with hearing loss acquired a 30-40 percent faster decline in cognitive function compared to individuals with normal hearing. Additionally, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was greater as the degree of hearing loss increased.
Researchers think that there are three potential explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can result in social seclusion and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss forces the brain to transfer resources away from memory and reasoning to the handling of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive functions.
Perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but what’s evident is that hearing loss is directly associated with declining cognitive function. Diminished sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain functions, and not for the better.
Additional studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have revealed additional connections between hearing loss and depression, memory problems, a higher risk of falls, and even dementia.
The consequences are all associated with brain function and balance, and if researchers are correct, hearing loss could likely lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been studied.
Going from hearing loss to hearing gain
To return to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be catastrophic to your health or it can be taken care of. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can reduce the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your arteries.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be taken care of. What researchers have discovered is that hearing aids can mitigate or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by revitalizing the brain with enhanced sound.
Improved hearing has been linked with greater social, mental, and physical health, and the gains in hearing fortify relationships and improve conversations.
The bottom line is that we not only have a lot to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have a lot to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.