The connections among various components of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as an example. You typically cannot perceive 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 can ultimately lead to stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to spot the presence of abnormalities before the serious consequences set in.
The point is, we often can’t identify high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately see the link between high blood pressure and, for example, kidney failure many years down the road.
But what we must realize 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 protect and enhance all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Much like our blood pressure, we frequently can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a harder time imagining the possible connection 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. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was greater as the severity of hearing loss increased.
Researchers think that there are three probable explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can lead to social solitude and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss forces the brain to shift resources away from thinking and memory to the processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual capability.
Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly associated 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 links 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 the experts are right, hearing loss could very likely lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been studied.
Moving from hearing loss to hearing gain
To go back to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be devastating to your health or it can be dealt with. Diet, exercise, and medication (if necessary) can lower the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your arteries.
Hearing loss can similarly create problems or can be taken care of. What researchers have found is that hearing aids can mitigate or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by re-stimulating the brain with enhanced sound.
Enhanced hearing has been linked 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 unattended hearing loss—we also have a lot to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.