Can Hearing Loss Actually Help Predict Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
Guest article by MD Hearing Aid
For years, hearing and memory loss have been accepted as side effects of aging.
However, research has found many correlations between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, leading to speculation that there could be a causal relationship between the two. In fact, a longitudinal study at Johns Hopkins found that for those over age sixty, over one-third of the risk of developing dementia could be attributed to hearing loss.
Hearing loss and Alzheimer’s affect a staggering number of Americans.
Hearing loss affects 48 million people in America, and that number jumps to 1 in 3 people over age 65. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, making up 40-60% of all cases and affecting over 5 million Americans.
Both diseases share several common symptoms that seem to strengthen their correlation.
People experiencing hearing loss or Alzheimer’s may also experience feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation, potentially leading them to react defensively to some situations. They might also react inappropriately to social cues, have problems speaking or understanding what’s being said, and they often score lower on cognitive function tests.
Researchers believe that these overlaps come from brain activity and hearing operations.
Our ability to hear comes from our temporal cortex, occipital cortex, posterior parietal cortex, and brain stem- all of which are also close to the area of the brain that Alzheimer’s first attacks.
The hair cells in the cochlea (the inner ear) may be damaged due to age or exposure to loud noises.
The fewer hair cells there are, the more difficult it is to capture a sound. When we hear, sound travels into the ear and stimulates the cochlea’s hair cells; these vibrations cause electrical impulses to move along nerves to the brain stem. Once there, the impulses move on to the temporal lobe, located just above the ear. If the hair cells are damaged, hearing loss occurs.
Research shows that early hearing loss doubles the risk of dementia.
At the same time, the risk of dementia rises as hearing loss worsens. However, you can help prevent hearing loss and Alzheimer’s by keeping mentally stimulated. If you’re concerned about symptoms of either hearing loss or Alzheimer’s, begin by talking to your doctor about getting a hearing test. Early treatment for hearing loss, such as hearing aids, has been shown to improve Alzheimer’s patients’ ability to understand and communicate, leading to a higher quality of life.
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