The connections between various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as one example. You ordinarily cannot perceive elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can steadily injure and narrow your arteries.
The effects of narrowed arteries can ultimately result in stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to discover the existence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we usually can’t perceive high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately see the link between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure many years down the road.
But what we must understand is that every part of our body and aspect of our physiology is in some way related to everything else, and that it is our duty to protect and promote all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
As with our blood pressure, we frequently can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we certainly have a harder time envisioning the possible link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And even though it doesn’t appear as though hearing loss is immediately associated 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 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 discovered that those with hearing loss experienced 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 degree of hearing loss increased.
Experts believe there are three probable explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can lead to social isolation 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 handling of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive capability.
Perhaps it’s a mix 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.
Further 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 connected to brain function and balance, and if researchers are correct, hearing loss could likely cause 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 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 similarly create problems or can be dealt with. What researchers have observed is that hearing aids can minimize or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by revitalizing the brain with enhanced sound.
Improved hearing has been associated with elevated 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 necessary steps to enhance our hearing.