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Every year since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan designated November National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, we take the opportunity to examine the far reaching and devastating effects of Alzheimer’s. Like hearing loss, Alzheimer’s is too often a disease that is accepted as a normal part of the aging process. While presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) does occur with aging, Alzheimer’s is not a normal occurrence as we get older. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and results in memory loss and a decline in cognition that is serious enough to interfere with daily life. It’s pervasive, too. Alzheimer’s affects around 1 in 2 families in the United States.
The incidence of Alzheimer’s is acutely correlated with aging, with 95% of all cases are diagnosed after age 65. Coincidentally, two-thirds of people over the age of 65 experience some degree of hearing loss. While the two conditions aren’t always connected, hearing loss can impact cognition and become an obstacle in the very habits that have been proven to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Between 60% and 80% of dementia cases are categorized as Alzheimer’s disease. As Baby Boomers age, Alzheimer’s is predicted to become even more of a public health issue. As we live longer and with an expanding elderly population, more and more Americans will feel the impact of Alzheimer’s in the coming decades.
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.
Alzheimer’s is most usually associated with memory loss, but there are additional factors which make this disease even more debilitating. Along with memory loss, there is also a degeneration of cognitive ability. Those who suspect they or a loved one is showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease should also watch out for difficulty thinking and reasoning (like adding numbers), trouble multi-tasking, and dealing efficiently with daily logistical challenges. Sometimes, there are behavioral changes or shifts in personality that are clues of the disease. You or your loved one may be experiencing depression, mood swings, delusions or may begin to socially withdraw.
The relationship between Alzheimer’s and hearing health
Monitoring healthy hearing can potentially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. We now know more about the ways that hearing loss affects the brain. When hearing functions are damaged, the areas of the brain responsible for translating external sound into the action we perceive as listening become dormant. Instead of simply shutting down, the brain may reorganize brain function to compensate for this loss. The very area of the brain that researchers believe is responsible for hearing may also house memories. More is being done to investigate this troubling link.
Those who already exhibit hearing loss can still maintain some of the previous brain functioning, though, by intervening in hearing loss. 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.
Keep up healthy habits
What’s more, hearing loss intervention helps people either begin or continue habits that are proven to reduce the risk or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Simply being social is often recommended as a way to reduce the risk of dementia. It keeps the brain active and stimulated, plus it serves a real need for human connection. When hearing loss is present, people sometimes begin to isolate rather than face the new challenges of communicating.
Regular exercise is a prescription for Alzheimer’s avoidance. It keeps a mind body connection strong and can help with healthy blood flow, too. However, if it isn’t already an ingrained habit, a daily physical regime can also feel impossible if hearing loss is present. That’s because people who have difficulty communicating are significantly less likely to introduce new habits and routines.
Get your hearing checked
If you have noticed changes in your hearing, it is important to contact us at Hearing Health to schedule a hearing test. A hearing test is a fast, easy intervention that significantly enhances one’s quality of life. Contact our team today to schedule an appointment.