One of the most common forms of Alzheimer’s is dementia. Numerous studies both here and abroad have noted a link between untreated hearing loss and the onset of dementia. Celebrate September, which is World Alzheimer’s Month by getting a hearing evaluation at Hearing Health and mitigate your risks for dementia.
Hearing loss a normal part of aging
A little more than 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. By the time Americans reach their 70s, about 2/3 are suffering from some hearing loss.
So, the general perception is that hearing loss is just part of the hearing process, but studies are finding more and more that processing sound plays an important part in brain health.
Hearing loss may be a normal part of aging, but Alzheimer’s is not. Hearing loss can and should be treated – after all, when your eyesight starts to fail you get glasses, don’t you?
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a brain condition that affects the part of the brain that controls memory, language and thought. As the disease progresses, an individual loses touch with the environment around them and can’t react to events, places or people.
Early indicators of Alzheimer’s are often recognized by those close to an individual before the actual person realizes them. And, early indications are scary to the average person.
They include memory issues – but not like forgetting to take your grocery list to the store – more like forgetting how to operate the microwave – or even what a microwave is! Other signs are: getting lost in very familiar places, trouble handling cash and paying bills, repeating questions over and over in a short conversation, taking longer to complete every day tasks like making the bed or folding laundry, displaying poor judgement, losing or placing things in odd places, confusion over time, place and the sequence of events and personality changes. Those with dementia may start thinking family members and caregivers are conspiring to take their money or trying to poison them.
Hearing loss and cognition
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, untreated hearing loss diminishes cognitive abilities and the brain needs cognitive challenges to keep functioning. Other factors may also contribute to the onset of dementia including obesity, high-blood pressure and smoking.
Think of the brain as a use it or lose it sort of organ you need to keep exercising it. Processing sound in the form of conversation, music, the sounds of nature and television and radio programs all help exercise the brain.
Untreated hearing loss causes your brain to struggle with deciphering sounds and conversations. It puts what scientists call a “cognitive load” on certain areas of the brain and not others. If you are using too much of your brain for the same thing – other cognitive abilities are diminished. Brain imaging of those with untreated hearing loss shows over time, parts of the brain start to shrink. The good news is hearing aids that encourage sound processing by the brain can re-activate these areas.
One study from 2013 tracked cognitive abilities, that is – concentration, memory and planning – in about 2,000 adults with an average age of 77. After six years, those who began the study with untreated hearing loss defined as severe enough to interfere with normal conversation were 24% more likely than those with normal hearing to have a decrease in cognitive abilities. Researchers noted untreated hearing loss seemed to speed up cognitive decline especially as research subjects got older.
Isolation and hearing loss
Most people with untreated hearing loss tend to start isolating themselves from others because it is embarrassing to not be able to hear a conversation and respond correctly. Rather than risk embarrassment – they just chose to stay home. This leads to depression. Lack of socialization as well as depression have long been recognized as factors that can lead to cognitive decline and dementia.
Positive effects of hearing aids
Studies show positive effects and improvement in individuals, even if they were already suffering from some dementia, if their hearing loss was treated. Think how wonderful it will be to get hearing aids when you aren’t suffering from dementia.
There have been amazing advances in hearing aids – both inside and outside the ear – and the professional team at Hearing Health can help you out with all the options. Call today for a hearing test.