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

In seniors who have loss of memory or impaired cognitive function, the underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. However, the latest research indicates that these problems might be the result of a far more treatable condition and that some of the concern might baseless.

According to a report published in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms some believe to be a product of Alzheimer’s could actually be a consequence of neglected hearing loss.

In the Canadian study, researchers searched for links to brain conditions by closely evaluating participants functional abilities related to thought and memory. Of those they evaluated for mental impairments, 56 percent had loss of hearing that ranged from mild to severe. Surprisingly, only about 20 percent of those people reported using a hearing aid.

These findings are supported by patients who think they might 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 due to their shortened attention span or a failure to remember things their partner said to them and in many cases, it was the patient’s loved one who suggested a check-up with a doctor.

The Line Between Alzheimer’s And Loss of Hearing is Blurred

It’s easy to understand how a person could link cognitive decline with Alzheimer’s because hearing loss is not the first thing that an older adult would think of.

Envision a scenario where your best friend asks you for a favor. As an example, they have an upcoming trip and need a ride to the airport. What if you couldn’t clearly hear them ask you? Would you try to have them to repeat themselves? Is there any way you would recognize that you were expected to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s that kind of thinking that leads hearing specialists to believe some people could be diagnosing themselves erroneously with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it could very well be a persistent and progressive hearing problem. Bottom line, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear to begin with.

Progressive Loss of Hearing 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) states that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating hearing loss. In the meantime, that number goes up significantly 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.

Progressive hearing loss, which is a common part of growing older, often goes untreated because people just accept it as a normal part of life. The truth is, the average time it takes for somebody to get treatment for hearing loss is about 10 years. Worse, less than 25 percent of people who need hearing aids will ultimately buy 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 dealt with, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I constantly need to raise the volume on the radio or television to hear?
  • Do I always ask people to talk louder or slower?
  • Do I have a problem comprehending words if there is a lot of background sound?
  • Do I avoid social events because holding a conversation in a loud room is difficult?
  • Do I have problems hearing consonants?

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 studied 639 people who noted no mental impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The results revealed that the participants who experienced worse hearing at the beginning of the study were more likely to get dementia, an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and cognitive function.

There is one way you might be able to eliminate any potential misunderstandings between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, and that is to undergo a hearing screening. The current thought in the health care community is that this assessment should be a regular part of your annual physical, especially for people who are over 65 years old.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

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