Why Healthy Hearing is Essential to Physical and Mental Health

Group of older people smiling in a huddle with active gear

The links among various components of our health are not always self evident.

Take high blood pressure as one example. You normally cannot detect 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 narrowed arteries can ultimately bring about stroke, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease, which is one of the reasons we have an annual physical—to uncover the presence of abnormalities before the dangerous consequences develop.

The point is, we usually can’t identify high blood pressure ourselves, and often can’t immediately see the link between high blood pressure and, as an example, kidney failure many years down the road.

But what we must understand is that every part of our body and aspect of our physiology is in some way linked to everything else, and that it is our job to protect and promote all aspects of our health.

The consequences of hearing loss to total health

As with our blood pressure, we frequently 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 while it doesn’t appear as though hearing loss is immediately linked to dangerous physical disorders and cognitive decline, the science is telling 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 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. And, the study also found that the rate of cognitive decline was greater as the severity of hearing loss increased.

Researchers believe there are three potential explanations for the connection between hearing loss and brain decline:

  1. Hearing loss can result in social solitude and depression, both of which are acknowledged risk factors for mental decline.
  2. Hearing loss causes the brain to shift resources away from memory and reasoning to the handling of fainter sounds.
  3. Hearing loss is a symptom of a common underlying injury to the brain that also impairs cognitive functions.

Perhaps it’s a mix of all three, but what’s evident 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 other institutions have revealed further connections between hearing loss and depression, memory issues, 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 lead to additional cognitive problems that haven’t yet been investigated.

Moving from hearing loss to hearing gain

To go back to the initial example, having high blood pressure can either be devastating 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 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.

Enhanced 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 a lot to gain by taking the steps to enhance our hearing.

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