It’s Not Dementia, it’s Hearing Loss

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

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

According to a study published in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms that actually could be the results of untreated hearing loss are sometimes mistaken as the product of Alzheimer’s.

In the Canadian study, researchers carefully assessed participant’s functional capabilities related to thought and memory and looked for any connections to possible brain disorders. Of those they evaluated for cognitive impairments, 56 percent had hearing loss that ranged from mild to extreme. Astonishingly, only around 20 percent of those individuals reported using a hearing aid.

A clinical neuropsychologist who was one of the study’s authors said the findings back up anecdotal evidence they’ve noticed when seeing patients who are worried that they may have Alzheimer’s. In many cases, it was a patient’s loved ones who recommended the appointment because they observed memory lapses or diminished attention span.

The Line is Blurred Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

It’s easy to understand how someone could link cognitive decline with Alzheimer’s because hearing loss is not the first thing that an aging adult would think of.

Imagine a situation 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 you? Would you try to get them to repeat themselves? Is there any way you would know that you were expected to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s that kind of thinking that leads hearing specialists to believe some people could be diagnosing themselves erroneously with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it may very well be a persistent and progressive hearing problem. If you didn’t hear what someone said, then you can’t be expected to remember it.

There Are Ways to Treat Gradual Hearing Loss Which is a Normal Condition

Given the link between aging and an increased chance of hearing loss, it’s not surprising that people who are getting older could be having these problems. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. In the meantime, that number jumps 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 typical part of getting older, people often just accept it because they think it’s just a part of life. In fact, it takes around 10 years on average for a person to seek treatment for hearing loss. 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 Might Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever truly wondered whether you were one of the millions of Americans who have loss of hearing serious enough that it needs to be dealt with, 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 loud room is difficult?
  • Do I always need to raise the volume on the radio or television to hear them?
  • Do I always ask people to talk louder or slower?
  • If there is a lot of background noise, do I have a problem understanding words?
  • Is hearing consonants challenging?

It’s important to note that while hearing loss can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has shown a conclusive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 individuals who reported no mental impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The study found that the worse the hearing loss 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 thought and memory.

There is one way you might be able to prevent any potential confusion between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, and that is to have a hearing test. The current thought among the health care community is that this screening should be a regular part of your annual physical, particularly for those who are over 65 years old.

Have Any Questions About Hearing Loss?

If you think you could be confusing hearing loss with Alzheimer’s, we can help you with a full hearing assessment. Make an appointment for a hearing test right away.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.