September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and while most of us are aware of this condition, we are not familiar with the fact that the condition is increasingly being linked to hearing loss. With this in mind, it makes sense to further explore these links and learn what we can do to protect ourselves.
Hearing loss is the third most prevalent physical condition affecting older adults, after arthritis and heart disease. By the age of 65, hearing loss affects 1 in every three people.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are also on the rise, and by the year 2050 alone, there is a projected increase to nearly 14 million cases of Alzheimer’s in the US.
Many studies show that untreated hearing loss is a bigger problem than being unable to understand your friends or listen to television — it can increase your risk of developing dementia dramatically.
Let’s take a closer look at dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and hearing loss.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that slowly changes the brain. It damages memory, disrupts cognitive skills, and ultimately makes it completely difficult to perform daily tasks. Changes in the brain often begin ten years before any symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease become visible.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a glut of proteins that causes plaques and tangles in the brain. These cells destroy neurons and break neuron interactions within the brain. For example, your brain’s parts associated with thought can not correctly communicate with language centers in the brain, and you will have trouble speaking. As these connections get weakened, several cells die, and the brain dramatically shrinks in size.
Warning signs of Alzheimer’s
As it is such a devastating condition, we should be careful to watch for signs of the condition in ourselves and the people we love. Here are the most common:
Memory loss: We all occasionally forget things, but the memory loss that comes with Alzheimer’s isn’t just an inconvenience; it disrupts everyday life and makes it hard to work. Those with dementia eventually forget what has happened in the last couple of years, or even fail to recognize loved ones.
Issues with planning: Those with Alzheimer’s disease face planning and problem-solving difficulties. Making a few mistakes is a normal part of aging, but not concentrating or taking twice as long to complete tasks is another matter.
Increased Confusion: Everyone has moments of confusion, but for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, these become more and more pronounced. Anyone living with dementia will lose track of the dates, times, and seasons and may even forget where they are or how they got to the place they are currently at.
Social withdrawal: It is natural for someone with Alzheimer’s disease to undergo personality and mood changes and start withdrawing from social situations.
What should we do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
Scientists remain uncertain as to what causes Alzheimer’s disease. There is most definitely a genetic component for early-onset (those who experience symptoms before age 65). For those with late-onset Alzheimer’s, the cause is complex brain changes that occur over decades, and are usually a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
The scientific community has determined that leading a healthy lifestyle, which includes a balanced diet high in leafy greens, regular exercise, active social life, and regular participation in mentally challenging games or activities, are all ways to stay mentally healthy as we age.
Hearing treatment may minimize the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Although the link is still under investigation, hearing loss is increasingly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, hearing loss is easily managed with hearing aids, which allows the brain to bring fragments of sound together into coherent speech. With this puzzle resolved, the mind can concentrate more fully on other things.
New research from the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP) at the University of Maryland (UMD) shows that hearing aids not only improve hearing ability but can also enhance brain function and working memory.
UMD’s research team tracked a group of first-time hearing aids with mild to moderate hearing loss over six months. The researchers used several behavioral and cognitive assessments designed to measure the hearing of the participants and their working memory, concentration, and speed of processing.
At the end of the six months, participants demonstrated better memory, enhanced speech processing in the brain, and greater ease of listening due to hearing aids.
The first step on the road to overcoming hearing loss is to get a hearing test with us! Aside from all the benefits that hearing treatment provides, you might even help prevent future cognitive decline in the process.