Studies show a correlation between Alzheimer’s Disease and hearing loss. But early detection and hearing aids could help reduce complications. Find out how.
50 percent of the population above age 60 experiences some form of hearing loss. And as much as 36 percent of cognitive decline is reported in people with mild, moderate, or severe hearing loss. In addition, 9 percent of the population has both Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss.
This correlation between cognitive decline and impaired hearing is well documented through many medical studies, but there are still questions regarding causation. Research now shows that those with both risks of Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss will, on average, show decline as much as seven years earlier than those without hearing loss. There is speculation that hearing loss may cause or aggravate Alzheimer’s, or that Alzheimer’s influences hearing loss. However, some studies see a potential link between Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss through a third factor, perhaps oxidative stress or other unknown health issues.
While the relationship between causation and correlation is yet to be determined, there are clear symptoms that have an impact on cognitive health in those with hearing loss. These three specific factors have the greatest risks on the health and quality of life of people with hearing loss and cognitive decline.
Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is closely connected to increased feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, and paranoia. When cognitive decline is present, this same hearing loss can cause further exasperation of these symptoms, making it more difficult for people with Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss to connect with others around them. And when social connection is reduced, communication is reduced.
Communication is a key component of brain function. Again, repeated studies have shown that the effects of cognitive decline and hearing loss both decrease an individual’s ability to communicate effectively with those around them. And reduced use of speech and auditory centers in the brain are correlated with increased risks of cognitive decline.
There is a particularly strong correlation between brainstem and cerebellar volume loss in individuals with both Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss. These areas of the brain are connected specifically to auditory and speech processing. And while hearing loss could complicate Alzheimer’s disease, or Alzheimer’s could accelerate hearing loss, the studies remain inconclusive. There may instead be a third factor causing both of these conditions to occur. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss have epidemiological connections that affect brain structure in profound ways.
While mild ARHL can double the risk of cognitive decline, severe hearing loss can increase that risk by as much as five times. And with 1 in 3 Americans ages 65 to 74 reporting some form of hearing loss, and around two-thirds of adults over 70 with losses that could affect daily communication, it’s clear that this particular risk factor for cognitive decline is a serious concern. If you are at risk for Alzheimer’s or dementia and have hearing loss, here are three steps you can take now to reduce the risk of early-onset symptoms.
Hearing loss is almost completely preventable. And with its close connection to Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline, prevention could significantly decrease the risk of increasing these conditions. Wearing hearing protection for work and recreation is the best and easiest way to keep your hearing healthy. But it could also be beneficial for fighting off the risk of dementia.
The symptoms of both Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss are similar at early stages: confusion, frustration, anxiety, and social isolation. Not only can screening help identify or rule out cognitive decline, but it can also help those with hearing loss recover possible communication deficits through hearing aids or amplification devices, thus decreasing the risk of the early onset of symptoms.
If your loved one has already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss, fitting them with hearing aids could positively impact their quality of life. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, it is possible to improve a patient’s ability to communicate with loved ones by improving their hearing. And with improved hearing comes improved cognitive function, slowing the rate of memory decline.
If you’re experiencing hearing loss, or know someone that shows signs of cognitive decline that could be connected to impaired hearing, it’s never too late or too soon to schedule a hearing screening. The symptoms of hearing loss carry a strong resemblance to many of the symptoms of cognitive impairments, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. With proper hearing treatment, it may be possible to slow the onset of memory loss, as well as improve the quality of life for your loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.