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

In seniors with memory loss or impaired cognitive function, the underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. However, recent research suggests at least some of that concern might be baseless and that these problems could be the result of a far more treatable affliction.

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

For the Canadian study, researchers carefully evaluated participant’s functional abilities pertaining to memory and thought and searched for any links to potential brain disorders. Of those they examined for cognitive impairments, 56 percent had hearing loss that spanned from mild to severe. Astonishingly, only around 20 percent of those people reported using a hearing aid.

These findings are supported by patients who were concerned that they may have symptoms of Alzheimer’s according to a clinical neuropsychologist who was one of the authors of the study. In some cases, it was a patient’s loved ones who suggested the appointment because they noticed gaps in memory or diminished attention.

The Line is Blurred Between Loss of Hearing And Alzheimer’s

It’s easy to understand how a person could connect mental decline with Alzheimer’s because hearing loss is not the first thing that an aging adult would consider.

Having your buddy ask you for a favor is a situation that you can be easily imagined. For instance, they have an upcoming trip and need a ride to the airport. What would happen if you didn’t hear their question clearly? Would you try to get them to repeat themselves? If you still aren’t certain what they said, is there any possible way you would recognize that you were supposed to drive them to the airport?

It’s likely that some people might have misdiagnosed themselves with Alzheimer’s because of this type of thinking according to hearing professionals. But it may really be a hearing problem that’s progressive and persistent. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear in the first place.

Progressive Hearing Loss 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) states that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating hearing loss. Meanwhile, that number rises considerably 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 those 75-years or older.

Even though it’s true that gradual loss of hearing is a common trait of getting older, people often just accept it because they believe it’s just a part of life. The truth is, the average time it takes for a person to seek treatment for loss of hearing is around 10 years. Worse, less than 25 percent of people who need hearing aids will ultimately buy them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever really wondered if you were one of the millions of Americans who have hearing loss severe enough that it needs to be addressed, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Consider the following questions:

  • Do I have difficulty hearing consonants?
  • Do I have a problem understanding words if there is a lot of background sound?
  • How often do I ask people to talk louder or slower?
  • Do I try to avoid social situations because holding a conversation in a busy room is hard?
  • Do I constantly need to turn up the volume on the radio or television to hear them?

Science has positively found a connection between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, however they are not the same. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 people who noted no cognitive impairment over a 12 to 18 year period studying their progress and aging. The results discovered that the participants who experienced worse hearing at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop dementia, an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and cognitive function.

There is one way you might be able to prevent any potential misunderstandings between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, and that is to have a hearing assessment. The prevailing thought in the health care community is that this screening should be a regular part of your annual physical, especially for people who are over 65 years old.

Do You Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

If you think you may be confusing hearing loss with Alzheimer’s, we can help you with a complete hearing evaluation. Schedule your appointment for an exam today.

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