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

An inherent fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant in seniors who struggle with the symptoms of loss of memory and impaired cognitive function. But the latest research indicates that these problems may be the result of a far more treatable condition and that at least some of the concern might unjustified.

According to a report that appeared in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms some think might be a product of Alzheimer’s could in fact be a repercussion of untreated hearing loss.

In the Canadian study, researchers looked for links to brain disorders by carefully evaluating participants functional capabilities related to memory and thought. 56 percent of people assessed for cognitive impairment had minor to severe hearing loss. Astonishingly, 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 support anecdotal evidence they’ve observed when examining patients who are concerned that they might 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 Between Alzheimer’s And Hearing Loss is Blurred

It’s easy to understand how someone could associate cognitive decline with Alzheimer’s because hearing loss is not the first thing that an aging adult would consider.

Imagine a scenario where your best friend asks you for a favor. For instance, let’s say they need a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What would happen if you couldn’t hear their question clearly? Would you try to have them to repeat themselves? If you still aren’t certain what they said, is there any possible way you would recognize that you were supposed to drive them to the airport?

It’s that kind of thinking that leads hearing specialists to believe some people might be diagnosing themselves inaccurately with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it may very well be a persistent and progressive hearing problem. Simply put, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear in the first place.

Gradual Loss of Hearing is Normal, But There Are Ways to Treat it

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) states that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating 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 those 75-years or older.

Though it’s true that gradual hearing loss is a typical part of growing older, people often just tolerate it because they believe it’s a part of life. The fact is, the average time it takes for someone to seek treatment for hearing loss is about 10 years. Worse yet, less than 25 percent of people will actually purchase hearing aids even when they actually need them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve thought about whether you have hearing loss severe enough to need to be addressed like millions of other Americans, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Is it difficult to have conversations in a crowded room so you stay away from social situations?
  • Do I have a problem comprehending words if there’s a lot of background noise?
  • Do I constantly need to turn up the volume on the radio or television to hear them?
  • Do I have difficulty hearing consonants?
  • Do I regularly ask people to speak louder or slower?

Science has definitely found a link between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, however they are not the same. A Johns Hopkins study tested the mental capabilities of 639 people who reported no mental impairments, then followed their progress and aging for 12 to 18 years. The study found that the worse the loss of hearing at the beginning of the study, the more likely the person was to develop symptoms of dementia which is a term that refers to weakened memory and thought.

Getting a hearing assessment is one way you can prevent any confusion between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss. This should be a part of your regular yearly physical especially if you are over 65.

Do You Have Any Questions About Hearing Loss?

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

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