The connections among various components of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as an example. You usually 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 consequences of damaged arteries ultimately can bring about 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 dangerous consequences set in.
The point is, we usually 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 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 duty to preserve and promote all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Similar to our blood pressure, we in many cases can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we undoubtedly have a harder time imagining the possible link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years later.
And although it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is immediately connected 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 diminish 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. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was higher as the severity of hearing loss increased.
Experts believe there are three probable explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can trigger social solitude 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 processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual capability.
Possibly it’s a mixture of all three, but what’s clear 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.
Additional studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have revealed further connections between hearing loss and depression, memory issues, 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 investigated.
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 attended to. Diet, exercise, and medication (if necessary) can reduce 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 observed 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 much to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.