The connections between various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as one example. You ordinarily can’t 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 consequences of narrowed arteries ultimately can lead to stroke, cardiovascular 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 often can’t perceive high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly understand the link between high blood pressure and, for 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 linked to everything else, and that it is our job to preserve and promote all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Much like our blood pressure, we commonly can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a harder time imagining the potential link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And although it doesn’t appear as though hearing loss is directly connected with dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is revealing to us the exact opposite. Just as increases in blood pressure can injure arteries and cause circulation problems anywhere in the body, hearing loss can diminish 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. Additionally, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was higher as the severity of hearing loss increased.
Experts think that there are three likely explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can trigger social seclusion and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss forces the brain to transfer resources away from memory and reasoning to the handling of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual ability.
Possibly it’s a mix 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 functions, and not for the better.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and others have discovered further 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 researchers are correct, hearing loss could very likely lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
Moving from hearing loss to hearing gain
To return to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be disastrous to your health or it can be addressed. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can lower the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can similarly create problems or can be taken care of. What researchers have found is that hearing aids can minimize or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by re-stimulating 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 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 steps to enhance our hearing.