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November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia that people experience. This degenerative brain disease affects people’s memories, and people with Alzheimer’s typically have difficulty remembering information that they have relatively recently learned. Alzheimer’s disease commonly affects those who are 65 years old and older. As often happens with cognitive disorders, the signs and symptoms of the Alzheimer’s frequently worsen and become more intense the older people get. It is important to note that Alzheimer’s can affect younger people as well. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s affect approximately 200,000 people under 65 in the United States.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
No matter their age, Alzheimer’s patients can experience increasingly difficult bouts of disorientation and lots of confusion surrounding events that are happening around them, and this is especially true as the disease progresses. Additionally, the effects of Alzheimer’s disease touches everybody around the patient. As the disease progresses, it can have quite devastating effects on people’s moods and cause extreme behavioral changes. Some of the common feelings that people with Alzheimer’s disease experience is a sense of suspicion and paranoia about those around them, including friends, loved ones, and coworkers.
Studies on Alzheimer’s Disease
While studying the cognitive issues of Alzheimer’s scientists have also been examining the connections between the disease and other bodily health issues such as vascular conditions, stroke, and blood pressure, as well as the links between the disease and diabetes and obesity. There also appears to be a relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss.
A 2011 study conducted at Johns Hopkins tracked almost 2,000 older people around the age of 77 years old to understand how hearing loss and cognitive decline may be connected. They tracked these people for 12 years, and some of them for 18 years. Scientists were particularly interested in those who developed Alzheimer’s over this time period, spending time understanding how quickly the disease progressed amongst their subjects. Researchers found a relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline, where “people with hearing loss were 24% more likely to have Alzheimer’s.” Elsewhere they note that “the worse the hearing loss was, the more likely the person was to develop dementia.”
The links between hearing loss and cognitive issues such as Alzheimer’s are perhaps unsurprising. Researchers generally agree that when a person is experiencing hearing loss, their brain does a lot of work in order to compensate for the loss—and the areas of your brain that are devoted to other senses such as bodily orientation and memory are reorganized (and diminished) to allow your brain to deal with your hearing loss. There have been other studies investigating the relationships between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
For another study, researchers at Johns Hopkins published their work in JAMA Internal Medicine, where they wrote that people with hearing loss experience declines in thinking skills more quickly than among people who are not experiencing hearing loss. For six years, the researchers worked with nearly 2,000 volunteers who were 70 years old and older. They found that those with hearing loss scored less on a test that they gave to assess cognitive impairment, a test that is called the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination. They found that people with normal hearing would take only 7.7 years to significantly decline on the exam, whereas it would take people with normal hearing loss nearly 10 years. In other words, their results found that older adults experiencing untreated hearing loss are at a far greater risk for developing a whole host of cognitive issues.
Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s but there are ways to protect one’s hearing to ensure greater mental health in the long run. Paying close attention to the signs of Alzheimer’s in your own life and in the life of your loved ones is a good first step. These signs can include bouts of memory loss that interrupt daily life, difficulty planning events or solving problems, and an increasing difficulty (if not inability) to complete otherwise familiar tasks.
Practicing healthy hearing habits begins with establishing a relationship with hearing health professionals. With the help of our team at Exceptional Hearing Care, you can protect your hearing, that of your loved ones, and ensure the best cognitive health possible.