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

An underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant among seniors who struggle with the symptoms of loss of memory and diminished cognitive function. But recent research shows that these issues could be the result of a much more treatable condition and that some of the concern might unfounded.

According to a study published in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms that actually might be the results of untreated hearing loss are often mistaken as the consequence of Alzheimer’s.

For the Canadian study, researchers carefully evaluated participant’s functional abilities associated with thought and memory and searched for any links to possible brain disorders. 56 percent of individuals examined for mental impairment had minor to extreme loss of hearing. Surprisingly, a hearing aid was worn by only 20 percent of those people.

A clinical neuropsychologist who was one of the study’s authors said the findings support anecdotal evidence they’ve observed when seeing patients who are worried that they may have Alzheimer’s. In many instances, the reason behind that patient’s visit to the doctor was because of their shortened attention span or a failure to remember things their partner said to them and in some cases, it was the patient’s loved one who recommended an appointment with a doctor.

The Blurred Line Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

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

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

It’s possible that some people could have misdiagnosed themselves with Alzheimer’s because of this type of thinking according to hearing professionals. But it might actually be a hearing problem that’s progressive and ongoing. If you didn’t hear what someone said, then you can’t be expected to remember it.

Gradual 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) reports that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. Meanwhile, 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.

While it’s true that gradual hearing loss is a typical trait of getting older, people often just accept it because they think it’s a part of life. In fact, it takes about 10 years on average for a person to seek treatment for hearing loss. Still worse, less than 25 percent of people will end up purchasing hearing aids even when they actually need them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever wondered if you have hearing loss severe enough to need to be addressed like millions of other Americans, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Is hearing consonants hard?
  • Do I regularly need to raise the volume on the radio or television to hear?
  • Is it hard to engage in conversations in a noisy room so you avoid social situations?
  • How often do I ask people to talk louder or slower?
  • Do I have a problem understanding words when there’s a lot of background sound?

Science has definitely found a link between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, however they are not the same. A Johns Hopkins study evaluated the mental capabilities of 639 people who reported no mental impairments, then followed their progress and aging for 12 to 18 years. The research found that the people who experienced worse hearing at the beginning of the study were more likely to get dementia, a general term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and cognitive function.

Getting a hearing assessment is one way you can avoid any confusion between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss. This should be a part of your regular yearly physical especially if you are over 65 years old.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

We can help with a full hearing evaluation if you think there is a chance you could be confusing hearing loss with Alzheimer’s. Make your appointment for an exam today.