This month, health workers across the globe are raising awareness about one of the most common forms of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease. World Alzheimer’s Month this September seeks to educate the public and promote scientific research working towards understanding and treatment of the condition.
Dementia, and Alzheimer’s specifically, is linked to a number of risk factors, among them untreated hearing loss. There are clear connections between hearing and cognitive performance. Treating hearing loss has been shown to lessen and even eliminate its impact on cognitive health. To get a better understanding of how hearing loss and Alzheimer’s are related, let’s look at how each condition operates.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia where a significant cognitive decline impacts memory, thought, focus and comprehension making everyday life challenging or impossible to navigate. Alzheimer’s cases account for most cases of dementia. It is estimated that Alzheimer’s is behind between 60 and 80 percent of dementia diagnoses.
Alzheimer’s progressively worsens over time. What may at first seem like minor short-term memory problems can develop into profound confusion, memory loss and difficulty completing everyday tasks. The disease usually first manifests as difficulty recalling newly learned information.
What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?
There are several key signs that cognitive problems related to Alzheimer’s disease are developing. Memory problems are an important factor to observe. Additionally, there are other mental warning signs to watch for including:
- Challenges with interpreting visual images and information as well as difficulty understanding spatial relationships
- Difficulty exercising good judgement and rational thinking, as well as being vulnerable to scams and financial exploitation
- Trouble and frustration with solving problems or putting together plans
- Confused about time, place and location, including misinterpreting the year
- Problems with completing familiar and everyday tasks
- Mood changes and shifts in demeanor and emotions can indicate mental shifts accompanying dementia. Additionally, withdrawing from social activities and isolating behavior can be both a sign of Alzheimer’s disease and a factor that can worsen the condition.
- Frequently misplacing items and being unable to recall daily activities or retrace one’s steps
- Language difficulty including trouble writing and finding the right words for what they want to say
While there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnoses can help slow the progress of the disease. New medication, monitoring and lifestyle changes can improve cognitive responses and quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia and Hearing Loss
The connection between dementia and hearing loss isn’t intuitive, but the two conditions are clearly linked. People with untreated hearing loss develop dementia at much higher rates than the general population. Statistics show that for every 10-decibel degree of hearing loss, dementia risk increases 20%.
Those studying hearing loss have found that the cognitive stress hearing loss places on the brain makes a person more vulnerable to dementia. When hearing loss develops, our mind strains to keep up with compromised hearing.
Imagine trying to complete a crossword puzzle with only half of the clues. You’d have to work extra hard to deduce the missing information and often times you would get it wrong. This is similar to how the brain has to process sound when untreated hearing loss is present. The mind draws attention and focus away from other cognitive tasks and reorders the way to processes meaning from sound. With untreated hearing loss, comprehending sound takes more time and energy and is ultimately less accurate. This mental strain is thought to be a cognitive stress that can contribute to dementia. Untreated hearing loss can also increase the risk of social isolation which is another major contributor to cognitive decline.
The Advantages of Treating Hearing Loss
There is some good news: treating hearing loss with hearing aids has been shown to reduce dementia risk levels. Using hearing aids increases cognitive response and sound comprehension and minimize cognitive stressors. Even for people living with dementia and hearing loss, using hearing aids has been shown to elevate mental acuity and reduces disabling dementia symptoms.
How do you get started with healthy hearing? Hearing Health can help. We’re Portland’s hearing specialists, from complete hearing exams to high performing treatment. If you have questions or have recently noticed a change in your hearing, it’s time to give us a call and see how healthy hearing can change your life!