The links between various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
Take high blood pressure as an 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 over time damage and narrow your arteries.
The effects of damaged arteries ultimately can bring about stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to spot the existence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t detect high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly see the link between high blood pressure and, for example, kidney failure years down the road.
But what we must 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 obligation to protect and enhance all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
Much like our blood pressure, we frequently can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a more difficult time envisioning the possible link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years later.
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. In the same way that increases in blood pressure can damage arteries and cause 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. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was higher as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Experts think that there are three likely explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can trigger social isolation and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to transfer resources away from memory and reasoning to the processing 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 clear is that hearing loss is directly connected with 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 links between hearing loss and depression, memory problems, a higher risk of falls, and even dementia.
The consequences are all associated with brain function and balance, and if the experts are right, 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 catastrophic to your health or it can be taken care of. Diet, exercise, and medication (if necessary) can reduce the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can similarly 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.
Enhanced hearing has been linked with elevated social, mental, and physical health, and the gains in hearing strengthen relationships and enrich 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 steps to enhance our hearing.