The links between various aspects of our health are not always self evident.
Take 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 slowly and gradually injure and narrow your arteries.
The consequences of damaged arteries ultimately can lead to stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to detect the presence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t detect high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately see the connection between high blood pressure and, for 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 interconnected to everything else, and that it is our obligation to protect and promote all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Much like our blood pressure, we typically can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we undoubtedly have a more difficult time imagining the potential link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years later.
And even though it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is immediately linked to serious 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 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 individuals with normal hearing. Additionally, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was greater as the degree of hearing loss increased.
Experts believe there are three possible 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 forces the brain to shift resources away from memory and thinking 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 blend of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly associated with declining cognitive function. Reduced sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain operates, and not for the better.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and others 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 the experts are correct, hearing loss could very likely lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been studied.
Moving 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 dealt with. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can lower the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your arteries.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be addressed. 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.
Enhanced hearing has been linked with elevated social, mental, and physical health, and the gains in hearing strengthen relationships and improve conversations.
The bottom line is that we not only have a lot to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the necessary steps to enhance our hearing.