We all put things off, regularly talking ourselves out of complex or unpleasant activities in favor of something more enjoyable or fun. Distractions abound as we tell ourselves that we will eventually get around to whatever we’re currently trying to avoid.

Sometimes, procrastination is relatively harmless. We might plan to clear out the basement, for example, by throwing out or donating the items we never use. A clean basement sounds great, but the process of actually hauling items to the donation center is not so satisfying. In the concern of short-term pleasure, it’s easy to find countless alternatives that would be more pleasant—so you put it off.

In other cases, procrastination is not so innocent, and when it comes to hearing loss, it could be downright hazardous. While no one’s idea of a good time is getting a hearing exam, current research shows that neglected hearing loss has significant physical, mental, and social consequences.

To understand why, you have to start with the effects of hearing loss on the brain itself. Here’s a familiar comparison: if any of you have ever broken a bone, let’s say your leg, you understand what happens after you take the cast off. You’ve lost muscle volume and strength from inactivity, because if you don’t frequently make use of your muscles, they get weaker.

The same happens with your brain. If you under-utilize the part of your brain that processes sounds, your capacity to process auditory information grows weaker. Researchers even have a name for this: they refer to it as “auditory deprivation.”

Back to the broken leg example. Let’s say you took the cast off your leg but persisted to not make use of the muscles, relying on crutches to get around the same as before. What would happen? Your leg muscles would get progressively weaker. The same happens with your brain; the longer you ignore your hearing loss, the less sound stimulation your brain gets, and the worse your hearing gets.

That, in essence, is auditory deprivation, which creates a host of other consequences present research is continuing to expose. For instance, a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that those with hearing loss encounter a 40% decrease in cognitive function compared to those with regular hearing, as well as an elevated risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

Overall cognitive decline also leads to significant mental and social effects. A major study by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) revealed that those with neglected hearing loss were much more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and were less likely to get involved in social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.

So what begins as an annoyance—not having the capability hear people clearly—leads to a downward spiral that affects all aspects of your health. The chain of events is clear: Hearing loss leads to auditory deprivation, which leads to general cognitive decline, which leads to psychological harm, including depression and anxiety, which ultimately leads to social isolation, strained relationships, and an increased risk of developing serious medical ailments.

The Benefits of Hearing Aids

So that was the bad news. The good news is just as encouraging. Let’s visit the broken leg illustration one last time. Right after the cast comes off, you start working out and stimulating the muscles, and over time, you recoup your muscle mass and strength.

The same process once again is applicable to hearing. If you boost the stimulation of sound to your brain with hearing aids, you can restore your brain’s ability to process and comprehend sound. This leads to better communication, better psychological health, and ultimately to better relationships. And, in fact, according to The National Council on the Aging, hearing aid users report improvements in almost every area of their lives.

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