This September, World Alzheimer’s Month brings awareness to the devastating condition. At Desert Valley Audiology, we are interested in the link between cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and hearing loss.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease affects people mainly over the age of 65, but it is important to note that it is not considered a “normal part” of our aging process. Our cognitive abilities determine our thinking, memory, and emotion. Dementia is a word that covers the degenerative conditions that affect our brains’ cognitive abilities.
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia that has increased dramatically in every category of race, sex, and ethnicity in the past 20 years. Studies have found some common characteristics that signal its onset. Here are some of the broader signs we need to watch out for, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Getting lost in familiar places.
- Repeating questions.
- Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks.
- Losing things or misplacing them in odd places.
- Displaying mood and personality change
These common symptoms often lead to isolation and depression and further decline of cognitive functions of the brain.
Untreated hearing loss
Early detection of hearing loss is the key to seeking proper treatment as soon as possible. Hearing loss has been identified as a link to cognitive decline. The quicker we are to address hearing loss the better prepared we can be to deal with its effects or even to slow it down to a significant level.
People with unaddressed hearing loss are known to suffer cognitive decline faster than those who have sought help and have gotten the proper hearing implements according to their specific hearing needs. How are some of the ways hearing loss affects our cognitive capabilities?
One of them is the lack of stimuli. When the sounds we hear are impaired the brain cells that need to receive and respond to clear sound signals, lose their function due to inactivity. Over time the pathways that the brain has formed for the recognition of sound breakdown.
Another way is due to overexertion in dealing with information. In simplistic terms, if we are constantly struggling to hear in a regular manner, other normal functions tend to suffer and breakdown. In essence, there seems to be an “overload” of information because of our need to divert extra energy to compensate for hearing loss.
Lastly, choosing to ignore hearing loss and to simply withdraw from normal social activities could leave one susceptible to depression. In turn, this creates a lethal combination that accelerates the decline of our mental and physical health and leaves us open to dementia.
What we know
Dr. Frank Lin and his colleagues at John Hopkins at the University of Baltimore started tracking over 600 people with healthy cognitive abilities from a period spanning 12 to 18 years. Every year, the participants were tested. The results of the study, published in 2011, showed that whoever had moderate hearing decline at the start of the study were three times as likely to develop dementia.
Another study in 2013, also conducted by Dr. Lin and his team, tracked nearly 2,000 senior adult participants and their general cognitive capabilities. Over 20 percent of the people they tracked manifested hearing loss after six years, which disrupted and degraded their ability for normal conversation. In conclusion, as many studies before have indicated, though the relationship cannot be proven to be causal, hearing loss is, across the board, shown to increase and exacerbate the cognitive impairment within an aging population.
Treating Hearing Loss Supports Brain Health
Arthur Wingfield, a professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University, suggests that we can retain the elasticity of brain functions if we are able to receive clear sound waves and thereby, keep our neural pathways as active as possible for optimal cognitive function. In this way, we reduce the physical and mental exhaustion that many people suffer from due to ignored and untreated hearing loss and mitigate vulnerability to developing dementia.
It follows that by attending to our hearing we can add another layer of protection and sustenance to our mental and physical health. In addition to a healthy diet, exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction, a hearing assessment every 5 years for adults to the age of 50, and every 3 years for those above the age of 50, is recommended.
With a comprehensive audio exam, hearing loss can be identified and diagnosed appropriately. A fitting for hearing aids or in extreme cases, cochlear implants will be determined by your hearing health professional. Treatment for hearing loss improves your overall health by elevating your hearing experience, connecting you to experiences with your friends and loved ones, and supporting your cognitive abilities.
Desert Valley Audiology
Desert Valley Audiology encourages you to reach out if you have any questions regarding possible hearing loss. Your overall health and emotional and mental well-being are our concern. We look forward to seeing you during World Alzheimer’s Month for a hearing test!