The connections among various aspects of our health are not always obvious.
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 progressively damage 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 discover the presence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t sense high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly see the link between high blood pressure and, for 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 job to preserve and promote all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
Similar to our blood pressure, we often can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a more difficult time imagining the possible link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years later.
And even though it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is immediately linked to dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is revealing to 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 experienced 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.
Researchers believe there are three potential explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can trigger social isolation and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss forces the brain to shift resources away from thinking and memory to the handling of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive functions.
Perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly linked to declining cognitive function. Reduced sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain operates, and not for the better.
Additional studies by Johns Hopkins University and others have discovered 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 researchers are right, hearing loss could very likely cause additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
Moving from hearing loss to hearing gain
To return to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be catastrophic to your health or it can be attended to. Diet, exercise, and medication (if necessary) can lower the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your arteries.
Hearing loss can likewise 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.
Improved hearing has been linked with elevated 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 a lot to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.