November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Far too often a disease that is accepted as an expected byproduct of getting older, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and results in memory loss and a decline in cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. This debilitating condition affects approximately 1 in 2 families in the United States. It’s the fact that 95% of people with Alzheimer’s are diagnosed after age 65 that raises red flags for folks diagnosed with or suspecting age-related hearing loss.
At around the same time in life, the risk of age-related hearing loss really climbs. While the two conditions aren’t always correlated, hearing loss can impact cognitive abilities and halt the very behaviors have been proven to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. And with our aging population growing, the number of cases in which Alzheimer’s is the cause of death will continue to climb. As Baby Boomers continue to make up the elderly population, the implications and ramifications of Alzheimer’s disease will impact Americans on a grander scale.
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease with no known cure. It’s unclear exactly what causes Alzheimer’s to develop, but about 70% of the risk is presumed to be due to genetics.
Signs of Alzheimer’s
Many of us familiar with the fact that Alzheimer’s causes memory loss, but it actually also comes with an overall degeneration of cognitive ability. This is true of how symptoms may present themselves. Memory loss is certainly a key indicator that Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is present, however it is not the only one.
People who suspect they or a loved one is showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease should also watch out for difficulty thinking and reasoning (such as in ciphering or dealing with numbers), a lessened or lost ability to multi-task, effectively dealing with everyday logistical problems. These may or may not accompany changes in personality and behavior such as a tendency towards social withdrawal, depression, apathy, mood swings, distrust in others, and delusions.
The Importance of Hearing Health
Maintaining healthy hearing can aid in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s s for a few reasons. It is now known that when hearing capacities are reduced, the areas in the brain which translate the sound into understand are left dormant. Instead of simply shutting off like a light switch, neuroplasticity causes the brain to reorganize itself when the lack of hearing stimulation is prolonged. The very area that researchers believe is responsible for doing a majority of this sound to hearing translation work is also the area of the brain that houses memories. Remember that loss of memory is one the first signs of Alzheimer’s.
Don’t worry, if you have hearing loss you can still stimulate and maintain the brain’s listening function by intervening with a hearing aid. While a hearing aid won’t totally restore former hearing capabilities, it will provide sound stimulation to the auditory nerve, which then carries that information to the brain.
Social Interaction Can Help Reduce Risk for Alzheimer’s
Beyond brain activity, intervening in hearing loss enables people to more easily engage in behaviors that have been linked with reducing the risk or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Engaging in social stimulation is often cited as a highly recommended behavior to keep neuropathways sharp and clear. However, these social habits are often the first to go when hearing loss presents itself. Instead, finding conversation difficult, people with hearing loss tend to isolate.
In much the same vein, keeping up a regular exercise regime is strongly advised. However, if this is not an already existing habit by people with hearing loss who are looking to lessen their risk of hearing loss, it’s unlikely that they will adopt a new one. Folks who have trouble communicating are less likely to develop new routines and habit because a considerable change in daily may in fact add onto the burden of their untreated hearing loss.
Visit Us at Hearing Health
It’s best to cover all your bases and make regular inquiries into your hearing and brain health. If hearing loss has begun to present itself in your life, schedule an appointment with us this month at Hearing Health to take steps to mitigate the risk of Alzheimer’s.