Center For Better Hearing - Glens Falls, NY

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

An underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant among seniors who deal with the symptoms of loss of memory and impaired mental function. However, recent research indicates that these problems could be the result of a far more treatable condition and that at least some of the worry might unfounded.

According to a report published in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms that actually may be the results of untreated hearing loss are sometimes mistaken as the consequence of Alzheimer’s.

In the Canadian study, researchers searched for connections to brain disorders by closely evaluating participants functional abilities pertaining to thought and memory. Of those they screened for mental impairments, 56 percent had hearing loss that spanned from mild to extreme. Astonishingly, 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 examining patients who are worried that they may have Alzheimer’s. In many instances, the reason behind that patient’s visit to the doctor was because of their shortened attention span or a failure to remember things their partner said to them and in some cases, it was the patient’s loved one who recommended a check-up with a physician.

The Line Between Alzheimer’s And Hearing Loss is Blurred

While hearing loss may not be the first thing an older adult thinks of when faced with potential cognitive decline, it’s easy to understand how one can confuse it with Alzheimer’s.

Think of a situation where your best friend asks you for a favor. Case in point, let’s say they need a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What would happen if you couldn’t hear their question clearly? Would you try to get them to repeat themselves? Is there any way you would recognize that you were supposed to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s possible that some people might have misdiagnosed themselves with Alzheimer’s because of this type of thinking according to hearing professionals. Instead, it may very well be a persistent and progressive hearing problem. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear in the first place.

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

It’s not surprising that people of an advanced age are experiencing these problems given the correlation between aging and the likelihood of having hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) states that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling loss of hearing. In the meantime, that number goes up considerably 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 progressive hearing loss is a common trait of growing older, people often just accept it because they think it’s a part of life. In fact, it takes around 10 years on average for a person to seek treatment for loss of hearing. Worse yet, less than 25 percent of people will end up purchasing hearing aids even when they actually need them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever truly wondered whether you were one of the millions of Americans who have loss of hearing severe enough that it needs to be addressed, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I regularly ask others to speak louder or slower?
  • Do I avoid social situations because holding a conversation in a busy room is difficult?
  • Do I regularly need to turn up the volume on the radio or television to hear?
  • Do I have issues understanding words if there’s a lot of background noise?
  • Is hearing consonants challenging?

It’s important to point out that while loss of hearing can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has proven a conclusive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study tested the mental abilities of 639 people who reported no mental impairments, then followed their progress and aging for 12 to 18 years. The results revealed that the participants who experienced worse hearing at the onset of the study were more likely to develop dementia, a general term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and thought.

There is one way you might be able to avoid any possible confusion between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, and that is to have a hearing assessment. This should be a part of your normal yearly physical especially if you are over 65 years old.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

If you think you could be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s, we can help you with a full hearing evaluation. Schedule your appointment for an exam today.

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