Tryon Hearing Center is raising awareness of the association between hearing health and Alzheimer’s disease and is underscoring the importance of addressing hearing loss for the benefit of overall cognitive function.
According to a study published in the Archives of Neurology, older adults with hearing loss appear more likely to develop dementia, and their risk increases as hearing loss becomes more severe. The researchers found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease specifically increased with hearing loss. For every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the extra risk of developing Alzheimer’s increased by 20 percent.
“There is strong evidence that hearing impairment contributes to the progression of cognitive dysfunction in older adults,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI’s Executive Director. “Unmanaged hearing loss can interrupt the cognitive processing of spoken language and sound, exhaust cognitive reserve, and lead to social isolation—regardless of other coexisting conditions. But when an individual has both Alzheimer’s and hearing loss, many of the symptoms of hearing loss can interact with those common to Alzheimer’s, making the disease more difficult than it might be if the hearing loss had been addressed.”
Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, increased risk to personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, and diminished psychological and overall health.
According to a study at Brandeis University, older adults with mild to moderate hearing loss expended so much cognitive energy on trying to hear accurately that it diminished their ability to remember a short word list. As a result, their cognitive function was poorer than those individuals of the same age that had good hearing.
Studies also have shown that although a significantly higher percentage of patients with Alzheimer’s disease may have hearing loss, they are much less likely to receive attention for their hearing needs than their normally aging peers.
Research has shown that the use of hearing aids, especially in combination with appropriate aural rehabilitation in a multidisciplinary setting, has helped to reduce Alzheimer’s patients’ symptoms of depression, passivity, negativism, disorientation, anxiety, social isolation, feelings of helplessness, loss of independence and general cognitive decline.
“A comprehensive hearing assessment should be part of any Alzheimer’s diagnosis and any hearing loss should be addressed,” says Kochkin. “Most hearing loss can be managed with hearing aids. By addressing hearing loss, we can help improve quality-of-life for people with Alzheimer’s so they can live as fully as possible. These individual’s—and their families and caregivers—face many challenges. Untreated hearing loss shouldn’t have to be one of them.”
About Alzheimer’s Disease
Source: Alzheimer’s Disease International
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for 50 to 60 percent of all cases. Dementia is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes, which affect memory, thinking, behavior, and emotion.
Alzheimer’s disease destroys brain cells and nerves, disrupting the transmitters that carry messages in the brain, particularly those responsible for storing memories. Alzheimer’s disease was first described by Alois Alzheimer in 1906.
During the course of Alzheimer’s disease, nerve cells die in particular regions of the brain. The brain shrinks as gaps develop in the temporal lobe and hippocampus, which are responsible for storing and retrieving new information. This in turn affects people’s ability to remember, speak, think and make decisions. The production of certain chemicals in the brain, such as acetylcholine is also affected. It is not known what causes nerve cells to die but there are characteristic appearances of the brain after death. In particular, ‘tangles’ and ‘plaques’ made from protein fragments are observed under the microscope in damaged areas of brain. This confirms the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Typically, Alzheimer’s disease begins with lapses of memory, difficulty in finding the right words for everyday objects, or mood swings. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the person may:
- Routinely forget recent events, names and faces, and have difficulty in understanding what is being said
- Become confused when handling money or driving a car
- Undergo personality changes, appearing to no longer care about those around them
- Experience mood swings and burst into tears for no apparent reason, or become convinced that someone is trying to harm them
In advanced cases people may also:
- Adopt unsettling behavior like getting up in the middle of the night or wander off and become lost
- Lose their inhibitions and sense of suitable behavior
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