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

In seniors who have loss of memory or impaired cognitive function, the inherent fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. But the latest research shows that these problems could be the result of a far more treatable condition and that at least some of the concern may unjustified.

According to a Canadian Medical Journal Study, the symptoms some believe to be a product of Alzheimer’s may in fact be a repercussion of neglected hearing loss.

For the Canadian study, researchers carefully examined participant’s functional capabilities related to memory and thought and searched for any connections to possible brain disorders. Out of those they screened for mental impairments, 56 percent had loss of hearing that ranged from mild to extreme. Surprisingly, a hearing aid was used by only 20 percent of those people.

A clinical neuropsychologist who was one of the study’s authors said the findings support anecdotal evidence they’ve observed when seeing patients who are worried that they may have Alzheimer’s. In many cases, it was a patient’s loved ones who suggested the appointment because they noticed memory lapses or shortened attention span.

The Line Between Alzheimer’s And Hearing Loss is Blurred

While hearing loss might not be the first thing an aging adult considers when faced with potential cognitive damage, it’s easy to see how one can confuse it with Alzheimer’s.

Having your buddy ask you for a favor is a scenario that you can imagine. For example, perhaps they are looking for a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What would happen 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 know 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 inaccurately with Alzheimer’s. But it might actually be a hearing issue that’s progressive and persistent. Simply put, you can’t remember something that you didn’t hear to begin with.

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

Given the relationship between advanced age with an increased likelihood of hearing loss, it’s not surprising that people of a certain age may be having these issues. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating hearing loss. Meanwhile, that number rises significantly 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 those 75-years or older.

Gradual loss of hearing, which is a typical part of growing older, often goes neglected because people just accept it as a normal part of life. In fact, the average time it takes for someone to get treatment for loss of hearing is about 10 years. Worse, less than 25 percent of people who need hearing aids will actually get them.

Could You be Suffering From Hearing Loss?

If you’ve thought about whether you have hearing loss severe enough to need to be addressed like millions of other Americans, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Consider the following questions:

  • Is it difficult to have conversations in a noisy room so you stay away from social situations?
  • Is hearing consonants difficult?
  • Do I regularly need to raise the volume on the radio or television to hear them?
  • How often do I have to ask people to speak slower or louder?
  • Do I have a problem comprehending words when there’s a lot of background noise?

Science has positively found a link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, however they’re not the same. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 individuals who reported no mental impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The study 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 memory and thought.

There is one way you might be able to prevent any possible misunderstandings between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, and that is to undergo a hearing test. This should be a part of your regular annual physical especially if you are over 65.

Have Any Questions About Hearing Loss?

We can help with a full hearing assessment if you think there is a chance you may be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s. Make an appointment for a hearing exam right away.

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