The connections among various aspects of our health are not always self evident.
Consider high blood pressure as an example. You normally can’t perceive elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can slowly injure and narrow your arteries.
The effects of narrowed 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 serious consequences set in.
The point is, we usually can’t perceive high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly understand the link between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure many 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 obligation to protect and enhance all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Much like our blood pressure, we frequently can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we undoubtedly have a harder time envisioning the potential link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years later.
And even though it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is directly associated with dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is telling us the exact opposite. Just as 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 found that those with hearing loss acquired a 30-40 percent faster decline in cognitive function compared to those with normal hearing. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was higher as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Experts believe there are three possible explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can lead to social solitude and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to transfer resources away from thinking and memory to the handling of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual functions.
Possibly it’s a mixture of all three, but what’s evident is that hearing loss is directly linked to declining cognitive function. Reduced 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 further links between hearing loss and depression, memory problems, a higher risk of falls, and even dementia.
The consequences are all related to brain function and balance, and if researchers are correct, hearing loss could very likely cause additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been studied.
Moving from hearing loss to hearing gain
To go back to the first example, having high blood pressure can either be devastating to your health or it can be addressed. Diet, exercise, and medication (if needed) can lower the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your arteries.
Hearing loss can similarly create problems or can be attended to. 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 linked 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 a lot to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have a lot to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.