The connections between various components of our health are not always self evident.
Take high blood pressure as an example. You usually can’t detect elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can over time damage and narrow your arteries.
The effects 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 detect 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 instantly understand the connection between high blood pressure and, for 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 interconnected to everything else, and that it is our responsibility to preserve and promote all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Similar to our blood pressure, we often 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 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 found 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 higher as the degree of hearing loss increased.
Experts think that there are three probable explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can result in social solitude and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to shift resources away from thinking and memory to the handling 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 mixture of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly linked to declining cognitive function. Diminished 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 connections 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 the experts are correct, 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 needed) can reduce the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your arteries.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be addressed. What researchers have discovered is that hearing aids can mitigate 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 fortify relationships and improve 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 necessary steps to enhance our hearing.