The connections among various components of our health are not always self evident.
Consider high blood pressure as an example. You ordinarily can’t perceive elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can slowly 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 annual physical—to detect the presence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t detect high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately understand the connection between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure 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 related to everything else, and that it is our responsibility to protect and enhance all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
As with our blood pressure, we in many cases can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a harder time imagining the potential connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And although it doesn’t seem like hearing loss is directly connected to 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 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 greater as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Experts think that there are three probable explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can bring about social isolation and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss forces the brain to transfer resources away from thinking and memory to the handling of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive ability.
Perhaps it’s a mix of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly linked to declining cognitive function. Reduced sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain operates, and not for the better.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have discovered 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 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 catastrophic to your health or it can be addressed. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can reduce the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be dealt with. What researchers have found is that hearing aids can minimize or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by revitalizing the brain with enhanced sound.
Enhanced hearing has been associated with greater 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 a lot to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.