The links between various components of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as an example. You typically cannot detect elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can gradually damage and narrow your arteries.
The effects of damaged arteries can ultimately result in stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an annual physical—to spot the existence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t detect high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately 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 linked to everything else, and that it is our job to preserve and enhance all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
Similar to our blood pressure, we in many cases can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we certainly have a more difficult time envisioning the potential link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And although it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is immediately linked to serious physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is telling us the exact opposite. In the same way that 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 severity of hearing loss increased.
Researchers think that there are three likely explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can lead to social seclusion and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss forces the brain to shift resources away from thinking and memory to the processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual capability.
Perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but what’s apparent 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.
Additional studies by Johns Hopkins University and others have revealed additional links between hearing loss and depression, memory issues, 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 likely lead to 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 disastrous to your health or it can be taken care of. Diet, exercise, and medication (if needed) can lower the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your arteries.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be dealt with. What researchers have discovered 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 fortify relationships and enrich conversations.
The bottom line is that we not only have much to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have a lot to gain by taking the necessary steps to enhance our hearing.