The Link Between Healthy Hearing and Overall Health
The links among various components of our health are not always self evident.
Consider high blood pressure as one example. You normally cannot perceive elevated blood pressure, and you wouldn’t feel any different than if it was normal. Internally, however, higher blood pressure can slowly and gradually damage and narrow your arteries.
The consequences of damaged arteries can ultimately result in stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an yearly physical—to spot the presence of abnormalities before the serious consequences develop.
The point is, we often can’t identify high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t instantly see the link between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure many 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 related to everything else, and that it is our job to protect and promote all components of our health.
The consequences of hearing loss to overall health
As with our blood pressure, we often can’t perceive small increments of hearing loss as it develops. And we definitely have a harder time envisioning the possible connection between hearing loss and, say, dementia years down the road.
And although it doesn’t seem as though hearing loss is directly associated with serious physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is telling us the exact opposite. Just as increases in blood pressure can damage 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. Additionally, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was greater as the extent of hearing loss increased.
Researchers believe there are three possible explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:
- Hearing loss can result in 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 cognitive capability.
Possibly it’s a mix of all three, but what’s evident is that hearing loss is directly associated with 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 revealed 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 right, 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 first 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 maintain the health and integrity of your blood vessels.
Hearing loss can likewise create problems or can be dealt with. 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 greater social, mental, and physical health, and the gains in hearing fortify relationships and improve 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 necessary steps to enhance our hearing.