The links between various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
Take high blood pressure as one example. You ordinarily cannot detect 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 effects 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 uncover the existence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences set in.
The point is, we usually can’t sense high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly understand the connection between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure years down the road.
But what we should recognize 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 obligation to preserve and enhance all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
As with our blood pressure, we typically can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we undoubtedly have a more difficult time imagining the possible link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And even though it doesn’t seem like hearing loss is directly linked to dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is revealing to us the exact opposite. Just as increases in blood pressure can injure 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 experienced 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.
Experts think that there are three possible explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can trigger social solitude 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 shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual functions.
Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly associated 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 further connections between hearing loss and depression, memory problems, a higher risk of falls, and even dementia.
The consequences are all connected to brain function and balance, and if researchers are correct, hearing loss could very likely cause additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been studied.
Going from hearing loss to hearing gain
To return to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be disastrous to your health or it can be attended to. 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 attended to. What researchers have observed 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 strengthen relationships and enrich conversations.
The bottom line is that we not only have much to lose with untreated hearing loss—we also have a lot to gain by taking the necessary steps to enhance our hearing.