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September is World Alzheimer’s Month! This global initiative raises awareness about dementia – a group of medical conditions that impacts 55 million people worldwide. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, this is projected to increase exponentially, reaching 139 people by 2050. The most common type is Alzheimer’s which impacts up to 70% of people living with dementia.
Though it is widely assumed that dementia and/or memory loss is a natural part of aging, there are ways that cognitive decline can be prevented. Extensive research shows that hearing loss is one modifiable factor that increases the risk of experiencing cognitive decline. This also highlights that treating hearing loss can help protect brain health and prevent the development of conditions like Alzheimer’s.
How Are Hearing Loss & Alzheimer’s Connected?
Hearing is a process that involves both the ears and brain which work together to absorb and understand speech as well as sound. There are specific areas of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information. So when hearing is impaired, the brain is also impacted. Extensive research shows that hearing loss can significantly increase the risk of cognitive decline. This includes a major study that was published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association in 2019. Conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, this study involved 10,107 people, ages 62 and older.
Researchers assessed the cognitive and hearing capacities of these participants over an 8-year period. They found that people with hearing loss were much more likely to experience cognitive decline. Compared to participants without hearing loss, cognitive decline among those with impaired hearing was:
- 30% higher among people with mild hearing loss
- 42% higher among people with moderate hearing loss
- 54% higher among people with severe hearing loss
These findings reveal a major link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. This data supports substantial research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline and conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Recognizing Hearing Loss Symptoms
Nearly 1 in 6 people have some degree of hearing loss. Though hearing loss is the third most pervasive medical condition people live with today, it still remains undertreated. Contributing to a delay in treatment is the fact that hearing loss typically occurs gradually. This means that symptoms can remain unnoticed for quite some time. Recognizing symptoms can help you intervene early by seeking treatment. Common symptoms include the following:
- Tinnitus: a ringing or buzzing noise in one or both ears.
- Sounds are distorted or muffled.
- Difficulty hearing in environments with background noise.
- Increasing the volume on the TV, phone, or other electronic devices.
- Asking others to repeat themselves or speak louder.
- Being able to hear more clearly out of one ear compared to the other.
- Lip reading to help distinguish words and follow a conversation.
These symptoms can be mild to severe, depending on the degree of hearing loss present. Symptoms strain communication making it difficult to engage in conversations. This often leads to social withdrawal to avoid communication, another major symptom of hearing loss. If any of these symptoms are recognizable, it is important to have your hearing assessed as soon as possible.
Treating Hearing Loss Improves Brain Health
Hearing aids are the most common treatment for hearing loss. These electronic devices help absorb and process speech as well as sound. This alleviates symptoms and increase hearing capacity which offers countless benefits including strengthening communication and boosting brain health. Studies show that hearing aids strengthen cognitive functions and improve brain health:
- 2020 Study Published in Science Daily: researchers at the University of Melbourne assessed cognitive capacities for nearly 100 people before and after using hearing aids. Participants, ages 62-82, were assessed before wearing hearing aids and 18 months after wearing them. Researchers found that “97% of participants showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function (mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks)”.
- 2018 Study Published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society: researchers performed memory tests for over 2,000 hearing aid wearers. Memory tests were conducted every two years for 18 years. Researchers found that hearing aids used improved scores on memory tests which showed an improvement in cognitive functions.
These studies highlight the positive impact of hearing aids on brain health. This can reduce the risk of cognitive decline, protecting brain health from conditions like Alzhiemr;s.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. World Alzheimer’s Month is a great time to prioritize your hearing health.