Woman with hearing loss concerned about Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

An inherent fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant among seniors who deal with the symptoms of loss of memory and diminished cognitive function. But the latest research suggests that these issues may be the result of a far more treatable condition and that at least some of the concern might unjustified.

According to a Canadian Medical Journal report, the symptoms some believe to be a product of Alzheimer’s could actually be a consequence of untreated hearing loss.

In the Canadian study, researchers searched for links to brain disorders by carefully evaluating participants functional abilities pertaining to thought and memory. 56 percent of individuals evaluated for mental impairment had mild to severe loss of hearing. Surprisingly, only around 20 percent of those individuals reported using a hearing aid.

A clinical neuropsychologist who served as one of the study’s authors said the findings support anecdotal evidence they’ve noticed when examining patients who are worried that they may have Alzheimer’s. In some cases, it was a patient’s loved ones who recommended the visit to the doctor because they observed gaps in memory or shortened attention.

The Blurred Line Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

It’s easy to understand how someone could connect mental decline with Alzheimer’s because loss of hearing is not the first thing that an older adult would think of.

Imagine a scenario where your best friend asks you for a favor. As an example, perhaps they are looking for a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What if you couldn’t hear their question clearly? Would you ask them to repeat it? If you still aren’t sure what they said, is there any possible way you would recognize that you were supposed to drive them to the airport?

It’s that kind of thinking that leads hearing professionals to believe some people may be diagnosing themselves erroneously with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it may very well be a persistent and progressive hearing problem. If you didn’t hear what someone said, then you can’t be expected to remember it.

Progressive Hearing Loss is Normal, But There Are Ways to Treat it

Given the relationship between advanced age with an increased chance of hearing loss, it’s not surprising that people who are getting older may be having these issues. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling loss of hearing. In the meantime, that number jumps dramatically for older age brackets, coming in at 8.5 percent for 55- to 64-year-olds; 25 percent for 65- to 74-year-olds; and 50 percent for people 75-years or older.

Though it’s true that gradual loss of hearing is a normal trait of growing older, people commonly just accept it because they believe it’s a part of life. The truth is, the average time it takes for a person to seek treatment for hearing loss is about 10 years. Still worse, less than 25 percent of people will actually purchase hearing aids even when they really need them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever wondered if you have hearing loss extreme enough to need to be addressed like millions of other Americans, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is hearing consonants hard?
  • Is it difficult to engage in conversations in a noisy room so you avoid social situations?
  • Do I have to crank up the radio or TV to hear them.
  • If there is a lot of background sound, do I have a problem comprehending words?
  • How often do I ask people to speak slower or louder?

It’s important to point out that while loss of hearing can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has proven a definitive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 people who noted no mental impairment over a 12 to 18 year period studying their progress and aging. The research found that the worse the hearing loss at the beginning of the study, the more likely the person was to experience symptoms of dementia which is a term that refers to impaired thought and memory.

Getting a hearing screening is one way you can avoid any misunderstandings between Alzheimer’s and loss of hearing. This should be a part of your regular yearly physical particularly if you are over 65 years old.

Do You Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

We can help with a complete hearing evaluation if you think there may be a possibility you might be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s. Schedule your appointment for an exam today.

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