The connections between various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as an example. You usually cannot detect elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can progressively damage and narrow your arteries.
The consequences of narrowed arteries ultimately can bring about stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an annual physical—to discover the presence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t detect high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly see the link between high blood pressure and, for example, kidney failure many years down the road.
But what we should understand is that every part of our body and aspect of our physiology is in some way linked to everything else, and that it is our job to preserve and enhance all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
As with our blood pressure, we typically can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we certainly have a harder time envisioning the potential connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years later.
And although it doesn’t appear as though hearing loss is immediately associated with dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is telling us the exact opposite. In the same way that increases in blood pressure can damage arteries and cause circulation 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 discovered that those with hearing loss experienced 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 higher as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Researchers think that there are three probable explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can lead to social seclusion and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to shift resources away from memory and reasoning to the processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive capability.
Perhaps it’s a blend of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly connected with declining cognitive function. Diminished sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain operates, and not for the better.
Additional studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have discovered further connections between hearing loss and depression, memory issues, a higher risk of falls, and even dementia.
The consequences are all related to brain function and balance, and if researchers are right, hearing loss could very likely lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
Going from hearing loss to hearing gain
To return to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be disastrous to your health or it can be addressed. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can lower the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be dealt with. What researchers have found is that hearing aids can minimize or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by re-stimulating the brain with enhanced sound.
Improved hearing has been associated with elevated social, mental, and physical health, and the gains in hearing fortify relationships and improve conversations.
The bottom line is that we not only have much to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the necessary steps to enhance our hearing.