The connections among various aspects of our health are not always self evident.
Take high blood pressure as one example. You normally cannot perceive elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can over time damage and narrow your arteries.
The effects of damaged arteries can ultimately lead to stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to uncover the existence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t identify high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly understand the connection between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure many 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 promote all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
As with our blood pressure, we often can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a harder time imagining the possible link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And although it doesn’t seem like hearing loss is immediately connected with dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is telling us the exact opposite. Just as increases in blood pressure can injure 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 discovered that those with hearing loss acquired a 30-40 percent faster decline in cognitive function compared to those with normal hearing. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was greater as the severity of hearing loss increased.
Researchers believe there are three potential explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can result in social solitude and depression, both of which are acknowledged 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 intellectual ability.
Possibly it’s a blend of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly associated with declining cognitive function. Diminished 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 links 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 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 catastrophic to your health or it can be addressed. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can lower the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can likewise 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 fortify 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 necessary steps to enhance our hearing.