The links between various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as one example. You usually can’t detect 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 narrowed arteries can ultimately bring about stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to detect the existence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we usually can’t detect high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately understand the connection between high blood pressure and, as an 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 connected to everything else, and that it is our duty to preserve and promote all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
Similar to our blood pressure, we frequently can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we undoubtedly have a more difficult time envisioning the possible connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years later.
And although it doesn’t appear as though hearing loss is immediately associated with dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is revealing to us the exact opposite. In the same way that increases in blood pressure can damage arteries and cause circulation 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 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 higher 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 bring about social seclusion and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to shift resources away from thinking and memory to the processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual ability.
Possibly it’s a mixture of all three, but what’s evident is that hearing loss is directly connected with 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 others have discovered further connections 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 right, hearing loss could very likely cause additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
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 dealt with. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) 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 observed is that hearing aids can mitigate or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by revitalizing the brain with enhanced sound.
Enhanced hearing has been associated with greater 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 unattended hearing loss—we also have a lot to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.