The numbers are staggering. Almost 50 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss and over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. But did you know that one is linked to the other?
More and more research shows that hearing loss increases your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.
It may sound unlikely but taking a closer look at both of these life-changing conditions reveals how it isn’t so surprising after all.
Alzheimer’s disease explained
Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain, specifically causing toxic proteins to build up in nerve cells. These nerve cells ultimately die, leading to the symptoms of the disease, namely memory loss, and cognitive decline.
This could start as trouble remembering what happened during the day, difficulty finding things around the house or getting lost when trying to go to familiar places. As symptoms get worse, remembering the names and faces of loved ones starts to become a problem and daily tasks such as getting dressed or cooking a meal become increasingly challenging.
Alzheimer’s is most common in those aged over 65 and often goes unnoticed in the early stages. Risk factors for developing the disease include age, genetics, family history, heart disease, high blood pressure, isolation, depression and as we’ve just mentioned, hearing loss.
The consequences of hearing loss
When most people think of hearing loss they imagine not being able to follow conversations, not hearing the phone ring or having to put the volume on the TV up. What they may not realize is that left untreated, hearing loss can affect the brain.
Hearing involves sound traveling into the ears, triggering nerve cells to send signals to the brain, where the sounds are then processed. If sounds don’t reach the brain for processing, these areas of the brain become inactive.
Like a muscle that doesn’t get used, the longer hearing loss is left untreated, the harder it becomes to get these parts of the brain working properly again. And so cognitive decline rears its ugly head again. Not to mention the fact that hearing loss often makes people avoid social situations, resulting in isolation and depression – another 2 risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
Connecting the dots
In both Alzheimer’s and hearing loss, the health of the brain is key. Researchers spotted this and dug deeper. The results were significant.
Research from Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands found hearing loss due to aging results in the loss of brain tissue.
Research from John Hopkins University found those with hearing loss are at least 1.4 times more likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss.
More research from John Hopkins University revealed that for the hearing impaired, the worse the hearing loss, the more likely dementia is to develop.
Now we know the link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, what can be done?
Help is at hand
Hearing loss is treatable. If you think you have a loss of hearing, book a hearing test with us at Acadian Hearing. We’ll assess your hearing health and where appropriate get you fitted with modern hearing aids, helping restore those all-important sounds to keep your brain stimulated.
With better hearing, you can live life to the full again; get out and about, socialize, stay active both mentally and physically and ultimately reduce those risks for dementia.
Dr. Heidi J. Sorrells obtained her doctorate degree from Salus University in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Minot State University in Minot, North Dakota. She is a certified Audiologist by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and she holds a Louisiana and a Texas Audiology License. Dr. Sorrells enjoys all aspects of working in a private practice audiology clinic but especially loves the challenges of vestibular (balance) assessment and rehabilitation.