The connections among various components of our health are not always self evident.
Take high blood pressure as an example. You usually 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 and gradually injure and narrow your arteries.
The consequences of damaged arteries can ultimately lead to stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to discover the presence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences set in.
The point is, we usually can’t identify high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly see the link between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure many years down the road.
But what we should realize 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 duty to protect and promote all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Much like our blood pressure, we more often than not can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a more difficult time envisioning the potential connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And while it doesn’t appear as though hearing loss is directly associated with serious physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is telling us the exact opposite. In the same way that increases in blood pressure can injure arteries and cause 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 individuals with normal hearing. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was greater as the degree of hearing loss increased.
Researchers believe there are three possible explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can result in 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 processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive capability.
Possibly it’s a blend of all three, but what’s evident is that hearing loss is directly associated with declining cognitive function. Reduced 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 discovered additional connections 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 researchers are correct, hearing loss could likely lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
Moving 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 dealt with. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can reduce the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be addressed. What researchers have found is that hearing aids can minimize or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by revitalizing the brain with enhanced sound.
Improved hearing has been linked 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 much to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the necessary steps to enhance our hearing.