The links between various components of our health are not always self evident.
Take high blood pressure as an example. You typically cannot perceive elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can over time injure and narrow your arteries.
The effects of damaged arteries can ultimately result in stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an annual physical—to discover the existence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we usually can’t sense high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly understand 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 related to everything else, and that it is our obligation to protect and promote all elements of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to total health
Much like our blood pressure, we more often than not can’t detect small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we certainly have a harder time imagining the possible link between hearing loss and, say, dementia years later.
And although it doesn’t seem as though 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 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 those with normal hearing. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was higher as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Researchers believe there are three possible explanations for the link between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can lead to 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 shared 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 operates, and not for the better.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions have discovered further links between hearing loss and depression, memory problems, a higher risk of falls, and even dementia.
The consequences are all related to brain function and balance, and if the experts are correct, hearing loss could very 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 catastrophic to your health or it can be taken care of. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can lower the pressure and preserve the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be taken care of. What researchers have observed 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 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 a lot to lose with unattended hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.