The connections between various aspects of our health are not always self evident.
Consider high blood pressure as an example. You normally can’t detect 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 narrowed arteries ultimately can result in stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to detect the existence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences set in.
The point is, we often 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 years down the road.
But what we must 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 protect and promote all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
As with our blood pressure, we frequently can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a more difficult time imagining the potential link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And even though it doesn’t seem like hearing loss is directly 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 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 higher as the degree of hearing loss increased.
Researchers think that there are three probable explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can trigger social isolation 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 handling of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive ability.
Perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but what’s evident is that hearing loss is directly connected with declining cognitive function. Diminished sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain functions, and not for the better.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have discovered 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 cause additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
Going from hearing loss to hearing gain
To go back to the first example, having high blood pressure can either be disastrous to your health or it can be attended to. Diet, exercise, and medication (if needed) can reduce 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 observed is that hearing aids can minimize or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by revitalizing the brain with enhanced sound.
Enhanced hearing has been associated with elevated social, mental, and physical health, and the gains in hearing strengthen relationships and enrich 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.