No one likes hearing loss. There’s nothing good about it — though there are ways to treat it and alleviate its repercussions.

Unfortunately, recent studies have discovered a troubling connection between hearing loss and the erosion of cognitive abilities.

These studies have found that the shrinkage of the brain that is a natural part of the aging process may be quickened in people with hearing loss — especially, untreated hearing loss.

The researchers of one 2014 study, cosponsored by the National Institute on Aging and Johns Hopkins Medicine, explained that the results: “adds to a growing list of health consequences associated with hearing loss, including increased risk of dementia, falls, hospitalizations, and diminished physical and mental health overall.”

This study was based on another ongoing study, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which has been tracking the health of thousands of people since 1958. It has included comparing MRI images of the brains of 126 people that were first taken 1994.

The new study on hearing loss and brain function was first published in Neuroimage and led by Frank Lin, M.D. and Ph.D, of Johns Hopkins Medicine. The results are sobering and clearly call for early intervention regarding hearing health.

“If you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later,” explains Lin. “If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.”

That means intervention at the earliest possible time, which is why it’s a good idea to begin having hearing tests done as part of routine physicals starting long before “old age.” One working theory is that diminished aural input to the brain over the long-term results in the brain underperforming due to, for lack of a better analogy, not getting enough exercise.