The connections among various components of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as an 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 gradually damage and narrow your arteries.
The consequences of damaged arteries can ultimately bring about stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an annual physical—to uncover the existence of abnormalities before the serious consequences set in.
The point is, we usually can’t perceive 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 should realize is that every part of our body and aspect of our physiology is in some way connected to everything else, and that it is our job to protect and enhance all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
Much like our blood pressure, we often can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we undoubtedly have a harder time envisioning the possible connection 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 serious physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is revealing to us the exact opposite. In the same way that increases in blood pressure can damage 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 individuals with normal hearing. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was higher as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Experts believe there are three possible explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can bring about social solitude 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 handling of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive functions.
Perhaps it’s a mix of all three, but what’s apparent 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.
Additional studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have revealed additional 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 the experts are right, hearing loss could likely lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been studied.
Going 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 taken care of. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can reduce the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can similarly create problems or can be attended to. 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.
Improved hearing has been linked with greater 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 unattended hearing loss—we also have a lot to gain by taking the necessary steps to enhance our hearing.