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A recent study in the Canadian Journal on Aging has provided fascinating evidence on a potentially confounding relationship between hearing loss and memory loss. Both of these conditions are very prevalent among older adults, with 50 percent of individuals over the age of 65 and 90 percent of people over the age of 80 having some form of hearing loss. However, only 25 percent of those who need hearing aids will go on to get them. Memory loss is also very common in this demographic group, making it possible that what appears to be memory loss might actually be attributed to hearing loss. The following findings and incidents might be familiar to you, and it’s possible that many people are mistaking memory loss for hearing loss.
A Correlation between Cognitive Issues & Hearing Loss
Dr. Susan Vandermorris, a clinical neuropsychologist at Baycrest, conducted the study of 20 older adults who were receiving a neuropsychological assessment at the organization. Indeed the study found that a 56 percent majority of participants who were being evaluated for conditions such as memory and cognition problems or even potential brain disorders had some form of hearing loss ranging from mild to severe. However, only about 20 percent of those individuals used hearing aids. With such a gap between those who needed aids and those who actually used them, the researchers wondered if the two conditions might have been mistaken for one another.
Many of the people who came in for these neuropsychological tests were brought in at the prompting of a partner or loved one who worried about the risk of dementia. Yet, the experiences that might prompt a loved one to worry might have had a lot to do with the ability to hear. For example, some people were reported having trouble remembering things that were mentioned in a conversation, but it is possible that the person was simply unable to accurately hear what was said during that conversation. Other warning signs of dementia include a person seeming to be confused or not understanding what is going on. Others have social struggles that make them disgruntled, frustrated, or otherwise dissatisfied with social environments requiring their attention. In each of these instances, you might imagine how a struggle to hear might be mistaken for a struggle to understand. If a person has trouble hearing, then they would certainly demonstrate confusion and frustration in conversations that demanded understanding.
This study points to the broader connection between cognition and communication. Those who have trouble hearing during face-to-face conversations face an uphill battle to put together fragments of sound into meaningful units of thought. They might hear a choppy sequence of random vowels and consonants rather than entire words. When that jumble of language comes across, the listener will almost certainly experience confusion and bewilderment at the voice that is speaking. Language is intimately tied to the ability to think, and it is hard to even consider what it would mean to think without the intermediate step of attaching those thoughts to words. When it comes to thinking in other contexts, the struggle to understand might cross over from conversation to silent thought, as well. Even without a speaker present, the principle of confusion and random meaning might persist in the mind of the person with hearing loss.
Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss
With these many associations possible, it is more important than ever for those with hearing loss to get assistance. Although it is unclear if wearing hearing aids can prevent memory loss, we do know that the two conditions go hand-in-hand. Practitioners, clinicians, and researchers tend to think of unassisted hearing loss as a “risk factor” for memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. With these many potentially devastating effects of untreated hearing loss, the time is now to seek assistance.
Visit Us at Hearing Health
Have you noticed changes in your hearing? Schedule your hearing test right away with us at Hearing Health, so that you can be sure whether or not you are in need of assistance. You never know—diagnosing and assisting hearing loss may have far greater benefits than only helping you hear. You may even be addressing symptoms that are otherwise mistaken for memory loss. If hearing aids are recommended as a treatment, don’t delay in taking that step toward healthy hearing!