The connections among various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as an example. You ordinarily can’t perceive elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can gradually injure and narrow your arteries.
The effects of damaged arteries ultimately can result in stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to discover the presence of abnormalities before the serious consequences set in.
The point is, we often can’t sense high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately see the connection between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure many years down the road.
But what we must understand 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 preserve and promote all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
As with our blood pressure, we typically can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a harder time envisioning the potential connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And although it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is immediately associated with dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is revealing to us the exact opposite. Just as increases in blood pressure can injure 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 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 greater as the severity of hearing loss increased.
Researchers believe there are three probable explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can result in social solitude and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to shift resources away from memory and thinking to the processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive ability.
Perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly linked to declining cognitive function. Diminished sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain operates, and not for the better.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have revealed further 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 right, hearing loss could very 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 devastating to your health or it can be attended to. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can lower the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can similarly create problems or can be attended to. What researchers have discovered is that hearing aids can mitigate 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 enrich 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.