The links among various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
Take 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 consequences of narrowed arteries can ultimately lead to stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an annual physical—to detect the existence of abnormalities before the serious consequences set in.
The point is, we usually can’t identify high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately see the connection between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure years down the road.
But what we should understand 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 duty to protect and enhance all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
Much like our blood pressure, we in many cases can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we certainly have a harder time imagining the potential connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And even though it doesn’t seem like hearing loss is directly connected with dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is revealing to us the exact opposite. Just as 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 individuals with normal hearing. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was greater as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Researchers believe there are three possible explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can bring about social isolation and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to transfer resources away from memory and thinking 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 mixture of all three, but what’s evident 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.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have discovered further 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 right, hearing loss could likely cause additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
Going from hearing loss to hearing gain
To return to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be devastating to your health or it can be addressed. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can lower the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can similarly create problems or can be taken care of. 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.
Enhanced hearing has been associated with greater social, mental, and physical health, and the gains in hearing strengthen 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.