The links between various components of our health are not always self evident.
Consider 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 slowly injure and narrow your arteries.
The effects of narrowed arteries can ultimately result in stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to detect the existence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences set in.
The point is, we often can’t sense 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 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 promote all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Similar to our blood pressure, we more often than not can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we certainly have a harder time envisioning the potential link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And even though it doesn’t appear as though hearing loss is directly connected to serious physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is telling 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 diminish stimulation and cause damage to the brain.
In fact, a 2013 study by Johns Hopkins University discovered that those with hearing loss acquired 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 believe there are three potential explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can bring about social solitude and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss forces the brain to shift resources away from memory and reasoning to the processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive ability.
Possibly it’s a mix of all three, but what’s clear 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.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and others have discovered additional 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 likely lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
Going from hearing loss to hearing gain
To go back to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be devastating to your health or it can be dealt with. Diet, exercise, and medication (if needed) can reduce the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can similarly create problems or can be dealt with. What researchers have found is that hearing aids can mitigate or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by re-stimulating the brain with enhanced sound.
Enhanced hearing has been linked 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 unattended hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the necessary steps to enhance our hearing.