The connections between various components of our health are not always self evident.
Take high blood pressure as one example. You normally cannot 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 effects of narrowed arteries can ultimately bring about stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an annual physical—to discover the presence of abnormalities before the serious consequences set in.
The point is, we usually can’t perceive high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately see the connection 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 interconnected to everything else, and that it is our obligation to preserve and enhance all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Much like our blood pressure, we more often than not can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we undoubtedly have a harder time imagining the possible connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And while it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is immediately associated with 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 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 experienced 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.
Experts think that there are three possible explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can lead to social seclusion and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss forces the brain to transfer 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 functions.
Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three, but what’s clear is that hearing loss is directly linked to 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 others have discovered additional links 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 the experts 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 catastrophic to your health or it can be taken care of. 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 taken care of. What researchers have found is that hearing aids can mitigate or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by revitalizing the brain with enhanced sound.
Improved hearing has been linked 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 a lot to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.