November is a time to come together with loved ones, friends and family as we start the winter holiday season. With the social flurry that comes with November, it isn’t a coincidence that this is also National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s Awareness promotes disease education and furthers efforts towards effective treatment and the race for a cure. Alzheimer’s disease, a debilitating form of dementia, usually occurs with advancing age and is marked by cognitive decline, memory issues and disorientation. Dementia can have a profound effect on a person’s quality of life and mobility.
Unfortunately, hearing loss and dementia are not entirely unconnected. Hearing loss isn’t just an issue with your ears. Leaving hearing loss untreated has huge ramifications for cognitive functioning and places stress on the mind. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease. When dementia is present, untreated hearing loss can exacerbate existing symptoms.
There is good news though - while most hearing loss is permanent, it can also be effectively treated with hearing aids. Treating hearing loss has been shown to relieve cognitive stress. Additionally, treating hearing loss helps us stay connected to the people and things we value in life. If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing issues, it’s time to schedule a hearing exam.
Hearing Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease
While the connections between dementia and hearing loss may not be intuitive, they make sense when you understand the impact that hearing loss has on the mind. Hearing loss largely affects the activity of the mind making it close to the cognitive concerns of dementia.
Permanent hearing loss is mostly rooted in damage to the sensory cells of the inner ear. Tiny hair cells become damaged throughout our lifetime. They lack the ability to repair themselves, so damaged hair cells will never regrow or reform, they simply cease to function. When a significant number of hair cells are no longer functional, it starts to manifest as hearing loss. Distinct details about sound and speech become hard to distinguish.
When this happens, our brain tries to pick up the slack for us. While the mechanics of the ear are used to detect sound, interpreting the meaning of a sound is done in the brain. The less incoming sound signals we receive, the harder it becomes to discern that meaning. The brain working under the stress of hearing loss, devotes more resources towards understanding important noises, like speech, taking energy away from other cognitive tasks. While working harder can compensate a little bit for the hearing loss, mostly it is just challenging and exhausting mental work. Attention given to the task of hearing is taken away from other important mental jobs - like coordination and balance, encouraging the likelihood of accidents and falling.
This cognitive strain is also thought to be a major factor in why Alzheimer’s is more prevalent in people with untreated hearing loss. The effort and resources used for trying to hear create shortcomings in other areas of the brain and may put more stress on people who are already susceptible to dementia.
Hearing Loss and Isolation
Untreated hearing loss also has a role in conditions that can worsen Alzheimer’s disease. Social isolation and lack of mobility can be fed by hearing loss and lead to the symptoms of dementia deepening. Social isolation is a health issue where a person lacks connection and communication with the world around them.
Hearing loss makes it harder to connect with the world. Trouble hearing makes it more stressful to participate in social activities, even interacting with family and close friends. Anxiety and stress brought on by untreated hearing loss make it progressively harder to engage socially. By withdrawing from regular interactions and activities, a person puts themselves at risk of isolation.
The symptoms of dementia can worsen significantly if isolation and hearing loss are also involved. A person already undergoing cognitive issues can become more confused and upset when isolation is a factor. Hearing loss creates further barriers in communication.
Treat Hearing Loss
Treating hearing loss has shown to be a remarkable source of cognitive relief. In a recent French study almost 80% of patients receiving hearing loss treatment showed significantly better cognitive functioning one year later. If you or a loved one is facing hearing issues, now is the season to address your hearing health.
Your hearing is part of this season of connecting with family and loved ones and Audiology Associates of Redding can help. Contact us today to open the path to life-long hearing health.