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

An inherent fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant among seniors who struggle with the symptoms of memory loss and impaired cognitive function. But recent research shows that at least some of that concern may be unjustified and that these issues could be the outcome of a far more treatable affliction.

According to a report that appeared in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms some think might be a product of Alzheimer’s might actually be a repercussion of untreated hearing loss.

In the Canadian study, researchers carefully analyzed participant’s functional capabilities related to thought and memory and searched for any connections to potential brain disorders. Of those they examined for mental impairments, 56 percent had hearing loss that spanned from mild to severe. Unexpectedly, a hearing aid was used by only 20 percent of those people.

These findings are supported by patients who think they may have symptoms of Alzheimer’s according to a clinical neuropsychologist who authored the study. 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 suggested an appointment with a physician.

The Blurred Line Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

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

Having your good friend ask you for a favor is a situation that you can imagine. Case in point, let’s say they are looking for a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What if you didn’t clearly hear them ask you? Would you try to have them to repeat themselves? Is there any way you would know that you were expected to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s likely that some people might have misdiagnosed themselves with Alzheimer’s because of this kind of thinking according to hearing professionals. But it may really be a hearing problem that’s progressive and persistent. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear to begin with.

Progressive Hearing Loss is Normal, But it Can be Treated

Given the relationship between aging and an increased probability of hearing loss, it’s no surprise that people who are getting older could be having these issues. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating hearing loss. Meanwhile, that number goes up dramatically 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 gradual hearing loss is a normal part of aging, people commonly just tolerate it because they think it’s a part of life. The fact is, the average time it takes for someone to get treatment for loss of hearing is about 10 years. Still worse, less than 25 percent of people will actually purchase hearing aids even when they actually need them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever really wondered whether you were one of the millions of Americans with hearing loss severe enough that it needs to be addressed, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Consider the following questions:

  • Do I have issues comprehending words when there’s a lot of background noise?
  • Is hearing consonants hard?
  • Is it hard to have conversations in a noisy room so you avoid social situations?
  • Do I have to crank up the radio or TV to hear them.
  • Do I regularly ask people to speak louder or slower?

It’s important to note that while hearing loss can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has shown a definitive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study analyzed the mental abilities of 639 people who noted no mental impairments, then followed their progress and aging for 12 to 18 years. The results discovered 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.

Getting a hearing screening is one way you can eliminate any confusion between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss. The current thought among the health care community is that this assessment should be a regular part of your annual physical, particularly for people who are over 65.

Do You Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

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

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