This month is World Alzheimer’s Month but you may be wondering how that relates to your hearing. The connection between dementia and untreated hearing loss may surprise you. Research has shown that hearing loss is a big risk factor for the onset of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of dementia. Additionally, hearing loss can have a big impact on the cognitive performance of those living with dementia.
Alzheimer’s and hearing loss are two conditions that currently cannot be cured, but treating hearing loss can improve a person’s risk of developing dementia and their cognitive performance overall.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a condition marked by profound cognitive decline, memory loss, confusion, and difficulty performing basic tasks. Alzheimer’s is mostly seen in aging populations over 65, but early onset Alzheimer’s affects nearly 200,000 Americans under age 65.
Alzheimer’s is progressive, meaning that cognitive responses worsen over time. Usually the disease initially presents itself as short-term memory difficulty, or increased strain with solving problems or performing basic tasks. As it develops, Alzheimer’s disease can become extremely debilitating. Those with the disease often enter into a decline that lasts for years and can be painful for the individual and their loved ones. It is currently the 6th leading cause of death in the US.
The Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition where cognitive processing is severely compromised and impaired. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s all relate to this decreased mental performance. Signs of dementia often begin as minor anomalies, but should be monitored in case they represent a bigger concern.
The most widely known symptom for dementia and Alzheimer’s is the development of memory problems. A person may start losing or misplacing items or have difficulty recalling known directions or procedural tasks. Making a plan or solving problems will become noticeably more challenging. A person with Alzheimer’s may begin to be confused about the identity of those around them, the location they are at or the present time or date. Linear clarity about time and place may become muddled, as can understanding spatial relationships and visual information.
Those with Alzheimer’s may demonstrate poor judgement or decision making. Often, dementia can lead a person to fall victim to financial scams and misjudgments as well as other irrational decisions. Emotions and mood can be dramatically changed by the onset of Alzheimer’s. Those with the condition often experience frustration, anger and annoyance as once-familiar tasks and activities become increasingly difficult. Isolation can feed into Alzheimer’s progression as decreased social contact worsens cognitive patterns and responses.
Hearing Loss and Alzheimer’s
Hearing loss has a pronounced impact on a person’s risk of developing dementia. At age 60, those with untreated hearing loss are more than 30% more likely to develop dementia than those with healthy hearing. The link between the two conditions lies in the cognitive strain that hearing loss creates.
When you cannot hear the full range of sound, comprehension and understanding become more challenging. Like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, understanding the whole picture is harder the less information we receive. Hearing loss means less sound is perceived. In order to interpret the meaning of the sounds that are heard, the brain has to piece together incomplete information. This process of interpreting incomplete sounds requires more energy, focus and time from our brain.
Even with using more mental resources, hearing comprehension with hearing loss is far less accurate. Using extra mental energy to hear pulls attention away from other mental tasks, making it harder to maintain steady cognitive functioning. This cognitive strain is thought to be the key link between untreated hearing loss and vulnerability to dementia.
Treatment Is Key
Treating hearing loss by using hearing aids increases quality of life, hearing comprehension, alleviates mental strain and virtually eliminates the increased risk of dementia that can occur when hearing loss is left unaddressed. Treatment with hearing aids has even been shown to improve cognitive performance in people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Hearing aids are a discreet, effective way to stay on top of your hearing health and positively affect your total wellness too!
Is it time for your next hearing test? Blue Wave Hearing Centers offer comprehensive testing and personal analysis and care. We specialize in helping you connect with the best hearing treatment options to optimize your hearing health. Want to learn more? Set up your next appointment with us today.