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September is World Alzheimer’s Month and September 21st is World Alzheimer’s Day! Starting in 2012, this international campaign is committed to raising awareness about dementia. Dementia includes a range of medical conditions that progressively deteriorate cognitive functions – memory, thinking, decision making, learning etc. 50 million people worldwide have dementia, a number that is projected to grow rapidly. The causes of Alzheimer’s disease, the main type of dementia, are unknown so identifying and addressing risk factors is a critical preventative measure. Hearing loss is one risk factor that can be treated, improving cognitive health.
World Alzheimer’s Month
Alzheimer’s Disease International established World Alzheimer’s Month to raise global awareness and challenge the stigma around dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60%-70% of the dementia that people experience today. In the United States specifically:
- 6.2 million people have alzheimer’s
- 72% are 75 years old and older
- By 2050, it is estimated that 12.7 million people will have the condition
Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition that leads to declining cognitive functions. It commonly starts with mild memory loss and can evolve into inability to recognize loved ones, complete tasks, engage in conversation etc. Alzheimer’s can take a toll on capacity to learn, make decisions, and communicate. This disrupts daily life and people may require additional care and assistance.
There are no exact causes of Alzhimer’s disease and because it is expected to impact more people exponentially, there is significant emphasis on identifying and treating risk factors. Extensive research links hearing loss to cognitive decline, showing that impaired hearing can increase the risk of developing conditions including Alzheimer’s.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss impacts nearly 48 million people in the U.S. Nearly 1 in 5 people have some degree of impaire hearing, making hearing loss one of the most common medical conditions people navigate today. Several factors can cause hearing loss including the following:
- Aging: age related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, becomes an increased risk as one ages. 25% of adults, ages 65-74 have hearing loss and 50% of adults ages 75 and older have disabling hearing loss. This can occur as a result of changes that can happen over time: growths in the ear canal, changes to bones in the ear, health changes etc. which impacts the auditory system.
- Existing Conditions: various medical conditions increase the risk of developing hearing loss. This includes cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes which are conditions that impact blood flow throughout the body, including in the ears.
- Loud Noise: one time or consistent exposure to loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to further process, allowing us to understand what we hear. Loud noise can cause them to die or lose sensitivity which reduces their ability to carry out this critical function and this results in hearing loss.
Other causes of hearing loss include head/neck injuries, genetic history, and specific types of medications. Hearing loss produces numerous symptoms that make it difficult to hear and communicate on a daily basis. Strained communication has far reaching effects on all aspects of life: relationships, job performance, social engagement, and brain health.
Hearing Loss & Alzheimer’s Disease
Hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive decline and developing Alzheimer’s. Numerous studies show that hearing loss impacts the brain in ways that reduce cognitive functions, leading to decline. Researchers suggest that hearing loss can contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s by causing:
- brain atrophy: the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound become underutilized and so neural networks become inactive.
- cognitive overload: other parts of the brain try to compensate for this inactivity and this can lead to cognitive overload.
- social withdrawal: a major effect of hearing loss is isolation and social withdrawal. This means less cognitive stimulation and engagement which not only affects mental health but also cognitive capacity.
This highlights the importance of treating hearing loss and protecting your hearing health.
Treating Hearing Loss
Treating hearing loss drastically enhances health. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are electronic devices that help process sound. This support maximizes hearing which alleviates symptoms, strengthening hearing and communication. This improves brain health, reducing the risk of cognitive decline. Commit to your hearing health today by scheduling an appointment for a hearing test! This is the first step to addressing your hearing needs which can change your life and health!