The Link Between Healthy Hearing and Overall Health
The links among various components of our health are not always obvious.
Take high blood pressure as one 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 slowly injure and narrow your arteries.
The effects of damaged arteries can ultimately bring about stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to detect the existence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t perceive high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately see the link between high blood pressure and, as an 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 connected to everything else, and that it is our job to preserve and promote all aspects of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
Much like our blood pressure, we in many cases can’t detect 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 later.
And even though it doesn’t appear 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 damage 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 individuals with normal hearing. Additionally, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was higher as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Experts believe there are three potential explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can lead to social solitude and depression, both of which are known risk factors for mental decline.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to transfer resources away from memory and reasoning to the processing of fainter sounds.
- Hearing loss is a symptom of a shared underlying injury to the brain that also impairs intellectual capability.
Possibly it’s a combination of all three, but what’s apparent is that hearing loss is directly connected with declining cognitive function. Diminished sound stimulation to the brain changes the way the brain operates, and not for the better.
Further studies by Johns Hopkins University and others have revealed additional connections 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 cause additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.
Going from hearing loss to hearing gain
To go back to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be disastrous to your health or it can be dealt with. Diet, exercise, and medication (if required) can reduce the pressure and maintain the health and integrity of your arteries.
Hearing loss can similarly create problems or can be attended to. What researchers have discovered is that hearing aids can mitigate or reverse the effects of cognitive decline by re-stimulating the brain with enhanced sound.
Enhanced hearing has been linked with elevated 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 untreated hearing loss—we also have much to gain by taking the necessary steps to enhance our hearing.