Did you know that September is World Alzheimer’s Month? The annual awareness campaign was launched in 2011 to raise awareness of the many stigmas and the misinformation that surrounds dementia.
Alzheimer’s is in fact the most common type of dementia. It is a degenerative brain disease that most commonly affects people’s memory. People with Alzheimer’s have difficulty remembering information that they have recently learned. As the disease progresses, Alzheimer’s can also include bouts of disorientation and increased confusion about events that are happening around a person.
The disease also affects people’s moods, and it can include behavioral changes—oftentimes people experiencing Alzheimer’s disease have a sense of suspicion and paranoia about friends, loved ones, and coworkers.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease frequently affects people who are over the age of 65 and the signs and symptoms of the disease can become more intense and worsen as people age. This is not only a disease that affects older people, however. The Alzheimer’s Association also reports that early onset Alzheimer’s affects approximately 200,000 people in the United States who are under the age of 65. The disease can occur as the result of genetics as well as health, environmental, and lifestyle reasons. Scientists have been exploring the relationships between Alzheimer’s disease and vascular conditions, stroke, and blood pressure. They have explored the links between the disease and diabetes and obesity.
Scientists have also been investigating the relationships between Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss. A 2011 study conducted at Johns Hopkins tracked almost 2,000 older people— the average age was 77—to understand how hearing loss and cognitive decline may be connected. They tracked these people for between 12 and 18 years and paid particular attention to those who developed Alzheimer’s, and spent time understanding how quickly the disease progressed in their research subjects. As they write, “In one study, people with hearing loss were 24% more likely to have Alzheimer’s. In another, they found that the worse the hearing loss was, the more likely the person was to develop dementia.”
Their study came to similar conclusions as other studies investigating the relationships between hearing loss and cognitive decline. In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers at Johns Hopkins determined that people with hearing loss experienced declines in cognitive skills faster than those without it. Almost 2,000 volunteers over the age of 70 were studied for 6 years, and the people with hearing loss had poorer scores on a test assessing cognitive impairment, called the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination. Where researchers estimated that people with normal hearing would take around 11 years to develop cognitive impairment, older adults with hearing loss were estimated to develop cognitive impairment in under 8 years.
Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
People who are experiencing untreated hearing loss are in fact at a greater risk for developing a whole host of cognitive issues, and scientists have discovered links between untreated hearing loss and dementia, which is an umbrella category for a variety of cognitive disorders. When a person is experiencing hearing loss, their brain does a lot of work in order to compensate for the loss. The areas of your brain that are devoted to other senses such as sight and touch are reorganized so that your brain can deal with your hearing loss.
While there is not a definitive causal link between hearing loss and cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease, the relationships between the two are important to note. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are ways to protect one’s hearing to ensure greater mental health in the long run. The first step is to notice the signs of Alzheimer’s, which include memory loss that interrupts daily life, difficulty planning or solving problems, and completing familiar tasks. Taking steps to develop relationships with your family doctor and hearing health professionals will ensure that that trained professionals give you the tools to understand the scope of cognitive abilities in you or your loved one.
You can also practice safe hearing no matter your hearing or cognitive abilities by doing things such as using ear plugs in loud spaces and limiting the use and volume of in-ear headphones. Taking these steps will go a long way to protect the hearing you currently have and to ensure future loss from loud noise exposure is at a minimum. Periodic hearing tests are an important part of hearing health as well. To schedule your appointment and consultation, contact us at Kenwood Hearing Centers today.