Woman with hearing loss concerned about Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

In seniors with memory loss or diminished mental function, the underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. But recent research shows that at least some of that concern may be unfounded and that these issues could be the outcome of a much more treatable condition.

According to a Canadian Medical Journal Study, the symptoms some think might be a product of Alzheimer’s may in fact be a repercussion of untreated hearing loss.

In the Canadian study, researchers searched for connections to brain conditions by closely evaluating participants functional capabilities related to memory and thought. 56 percent of those evaluated for cognitive impairment had minor to severe hearing loss. Surprisingly, a hearing aid was used by only 20 percent of those.

A clinical neuropsychologist who was one of the study’s authors said the findings back up anecdotal evidence they’ve observed when seeing patients who are worried that they may have Alzheimer’s. In many instances, it was a patient’s loved ones who suggested the visit to the doctor because they noticed gaps in memory or diminished attention span.

The Line is Blurred Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

It’s easy to see how someone could link cognitive decline with Alzheimer’s because hearing loss is not the first thing that an older adult would think of.

Having your buddy ask you for a favor is a situation that you can be easily imagined. Case in point, perhaps they are looking for a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What if you didn’t clearly hear them ask you? Would you ask them to repeat themselves? If you still aren’t sure what they said, is there any possible way you would know that you were supposed to drive them to the airport?

It’s that line of thinking that leads hearing professionals to believe some people might be diagnosing themselves erroneously with Alzheimer’s. But it may really be a hearing problem that’s progressive and persistent. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you didn’t hear in the first place.

Gradual Hearing Loss is Normal, But it Can be Treated

It’s not surprising that people of an advanced age are experiencing these problems given the correlation between aging and the likelihood of having hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. In the meantime, that number jumps significantly for older age brackets, coming in at 8.5 percent for 55- to 64-year-olds; 25 percent for 65- to 74-year-olds; and 50 percent for people 75-years or older.

Progressive loss of hearing, which is a typical part of aging, often goes untreated because people just accept it as part of life. In fact, the average time it takes for somebody to get treatment for loss of hearing is around 10 years. Worse yet, less than 25 percent of people will actually purchase hearing aids even when they actually need them.

Is it Possible That You Could be Suffering From Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever wondered if you have hearing loss extreme enough to need to be addressed like millions of other Americans, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Consider the following questions:

  • Do I have trouble hearing consonants?
  • How often do I ask people to speak louder or slower?
  • Do I have issues understanding words if there is a lot of background sound?
  • Do I constantly need to turn up the volume on the radio or television to hear them?
  • Do I stay away from social situations because holding a conversation in a loud room is difficult?

Science has positively found a connection between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, however they are not the same. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 people who reported no mental impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The results discovered that the participants who had worse hearing at the onset of the study were more likely to develop dementia, a general term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and cognitive function.

There is one way you might be able to prevent any potential misunderstandings between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, and that is to have a hearing assessment. This should be a part of your regular annual physical especially if you are over 65.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

We can help with a full hearing evaluation if you think there is a possibility you could be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s. Make an appointment for a hearing exam right away.

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