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

An underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant among seniors who struggle with the symptoms of loss of memory and impaired cognitive function. However, recent research shows that these issues may be the result of a much more treatable condition and that at least some of the concern may unfounded.

According to a study that appeared in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms some believe to be the result of Alzheimer’s might in fact be a consequence of neglected hearing loss.

In the Canadian study, researchers searched for links to brain conditions by closely evaluating participants functional abilities related to memory and thought. 56 percent of individuals assessed for cognitive impairment had mild to severe loss of hearing. Shockingly, only around 20 percent of those people reported using a hearing aid.

These findings are supported by patients who were concerned that they may have symptoms of Alzheimer’s according to a clinical neuropsychologist who was one of the authors of the paper. In many instances, the reason for that patient’s visit to the doctor was due to 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 doctor.

The Line Between Alzheimer’s And Loss of Hearing is Blurred

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

Envision a scenario where your friend asks you for a favor. Case in point, let’s say they need a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What if you didn’t hear their question clearly? Would you ask them to repeat it? 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 that kind of thinking that leads hearing professionals to believe some people may be diagnosing themselves inaccurately with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it may very well be a persistent and progressive hearing issue. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you didn’t hear in the first place.

Progressive Loss of Hearing is Normal, But it Can be Treated

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 debilitating hearing loss. Meanwhile, that number jumps 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.

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

Do You Have 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. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I avoid social events because having a conversation in a busy room is hard?
  • Do I have difficulty hearing consonants?
  • Do I regularly ask people to talk louder or slower?
  • If there is a lot of background noise, do I have a problem comprehending words?
  • Do I have to crank up the radio or TV to hear them.

Science has positively found a link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, however they are not the same. A Johns Hopkins study studied 639 people who reported no cognitive impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The research found that the worse the hearing loss at the start of the study, the more likely the person was to experience symptoms of dementia which is a term that refers to diminished thought and memory.

There is one way you may be able to prevent any potential confusion between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, and that is to undergo a hearing screening. The current thought among the health care community is that this screening should be a routine part of your annual physical, particularly for people who are over 65.

Have Any Questions About Hearing Loss?

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