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

An underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant in seniors who struggle with the symptoms of memory loss and reduced mental function. But recent research shows that at least some of that worry may be unjustified and that these issues may be the result of a far more treatable condition.

According to a Canadian Medical Journal report, the symptoms some think might be the result of Alzheimer’s could in fact be a consequence of untreated hearing loss.

In the Canadian study, researchers looked for links to brain conditions by carefully evaluating participants functional capabilities related to thought and memory. Out of those they examined for cognitive impairments, 56 percent had loss of hearing that ranged from mild to extreme. Surprisingly, a hearing aid was worn 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 was one of the authors of the paper. In some instances, it was a patient’s loved ones who suggested the visit to the doctor because they observed memory lapses or shortened attention span.

The Blurred Line Between Loss of Hearing And Alzheimer’s

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

Think of a scenario where your friend asks you for a favor. For instance, perhaps they are looking for a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What if you didn’t hear their question clearly? Would you try to get them to repeat themselves? If you still aren’t sure what they said, is there any possible way you would know that you were supposed to drive them to the airport?

It’s likely that some people may have misdiagnosed themselves with Alzheimer’s because of this kind of thinking according to hearing specialists. Instead, it could very well be a persistent and progressive hearing problem. Simply put, you can’t remember something that you didn’t hear to begin with.

Progressive Hearing Loss 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) estimates that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling loss of hearing. In the meantime, that number jumps 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.

Gradual hearing loss, which is a typical part of aging, often goes neglected because people just accept it as part of life. In fact, the average time it takes for somebody to seek treatment for hearing loss is around 10 years. Worse yet, less than 25 percent of people will actually purchase hearing aids even when they really need them.

Is it Possible That You Might be Suffering From Hearing Loss?

If you’ve thought about whether you have hearing loss extreme enough to need to be addressed like millions of other Americans, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Consider the following questions:

  • How often do I ask people to speak louder or slower?
  • Is it hard to engage in conversations in a noisy room so you avoid social situations?
  • Do I have to turn up the radio or TV to hear them.
  • Do I have difficulty hearing consonants?
  • If there is a lot of background noise, do I have a problem comprehending words?

It’s important to point out that while loss of hearing can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has proven a definitive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 individuals who reported no mental impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The research found that the worse the loss of hearing at the start of the study, the more likely the person was to develop symptoms of dementia which is a term that refers to weakened thought and memory.

Getting a hearing evaluating is one way you can avoid any misunderstandings between Alzheimer’s and loss of hearing. The prevailing thought in the health care community is that this screening should be a routine part of your annual physical, especially for people who are over 65 years old.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

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

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