The links between various components of our health are not always obvious.
Consider high blood pressure as one example. You usually can’t detect elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can progressively injure 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 yearly physical—to uncover the presence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences set in.
The point is, we often can’t perceive high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly see the link between high blood pressure and, for example, kidney failure 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 related to everything else, and that it is our job to protect and enhance all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
As with our blood pressure, we in many cases can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a harder time envisioning the potential link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And while it doesn’t seem like hearing loss is immediately linked to serious 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 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 higher as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Researchers think that there are three likely explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can result in social seclusion and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to shift 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 intellectual functions.
Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three, but what’s evident is that hearing loss is directly associated with declining cognitive function. Diminished sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain operates, and not for the better.
Additional studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have revealed further links between hearing loss and depression, memory problems, a higher risk of falls, and even dementia.
The consequences are all associated with brain function and balance, and if the experts 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 return to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be disastrous to your health or it can be taken care of. Diet, exercise, and medication (if necessary) can reduce the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your arteries.
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 elevated social, mental, and physical health, and the gains in hearing fortify relationships and improve conversations.
The bottom line is that we not only have much to lose with unattended hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.