The connections between various components of our health are not always obvious.
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 over time injure and narrow your arteries.
The consequences of damaged arteries ultimately can result in stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to spot the presence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t sense high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly see the connection between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure many years down the road.
But what we should 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 enhance all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
Similar to our blood pressure, we frequently can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we certainly have a more difficult time imagining the potential connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And even though it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is directly connected to dangerous 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 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 possible explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can trigger social seclusion and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to shift resources away from memory and reasoning to the processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual functions.
Possibly it’s a combination of all three, but what’s clear is that hearing loss is directly connected with declining cognitive function. Reduced sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain functions, and not for the better.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and others have revealed further 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 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 devastating to your health or it can be attended to. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can lower the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your arteries.
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 re-stimulating the brain with enhanced sound.
Enhanced 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 much to lose with unattended hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.