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

In seniors who have memory loss or impaired cognitive function, the underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. But recent research suggests that these problems might be the result of a much more treatable condition and that some of the concern may unjustified.

According to a study that appeared in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms some believe to be the result of Alzheimer’s could actually be a consequence of neglected hearing loss.

For the Canadian study, researchers closely assessed participant’s functional abilities associated with memory and thought and searched for any connections to possible brain disorders. Out of those they evaluated for cognitive impairments, 56 percent had hearing loss that spanned from mild to extreme. Astonishingly, a hearing aid was used by only 20 percent of those people.

A clinical neuropsychologist who served as one of the study’s authors said the findings support anecdotal evidence they’ve noticed when seeing patients who are concerned that they may have Alzheimer’s. In many instances, the reason for that patient’s visit to the doctor was due to their shortened attention span or a failure to remember things their partner told them and in some cases, it was the patient’s loved one who suggested an appointment 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 consider.

Envision a scenario where your 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? Would you try to get 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 line of thinking that leads hearing specialists to believe some people might be diagnosing themselves inaccurately with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it may very well be a persistent and progressive hearing issue. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear in the first place.

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) estimates that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. Meanwhile, 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.

Though it’s true that progressive hearing loss is a common part of aging, people commonly just tolerate it because they believe it’s just a part of life. The truth is, the average time it takes for a person to get treatment for loss of hearing is around 10 years. Worse yet, less than 25 percent of people will end up purchasing hearing aids even when they actually need them.

Is it Possible That You Could be Suffering From 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:

  • Do I avoid social events because having a conversation in a busy room is difficult?
  • If there is a lot of background sound, do I have a problem understanding words?
  • How often do I ask people to talk slower or louder?
  • Do I have trouble hearing consonants?
  • Do I constantly need to raise the volume on the radio or television to hear?

It’s important to note that while hearing loss can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has proven a conclusive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 individuals who reported no cognitive impairment over a 12 to 18 year period studying their progress and aging. The research found that the worse the loss of hearing at the start of the study, the more likely the person was to experience symptoms of dementia which is a term that refers to weakened memory and thought.

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

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

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