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September is World Alzheimer’s Month! Alzheimer’s disease is a rapidly growing medical condition that can prevent people from navigating their life fully and independently. This global campaign aims to raise awareness about what people can do to be proactive about their health and reduce the risk of dementia.
Dementia refers to a range of diseases that cause cognitive decline, a reduced ability to remember, make decisions, solve problems, critically think etc. There are several types but Alzheimer’s is the most progressive and common form, accounting for 60-80% of all dementia. Research is focused on ways to prevent or delay the development of Alzheimer’s. Studies have identified hearing loss as a contributing factor.
Hearing Loss Symptoms
Hearing loss is a chronic condition that reduces one’s ability to hear and process sound. It can be caused by several factors including environmental exposure to loud noise, genetic history, aging, and existing medical conditions (hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes etc.). Hearing impairment often happens gradually so it can be difficult to notice. It is crucial to be aware of the symptoms so you can detect and treat hearing loss as soon as possible. Symptoms include:
- A ringing, buzzing, humming like noise in one or both ears (referred to as tinnitus)
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak loudly and/or slowly
- Sounds are muffled and unclear which makes distinguishing words challenging
- Increased difficulty hearing especially in places with background noise
- Ability to hear more clearly in one ear versus the other
- Difficulty following entire conversations, especially with multiple people
People can experience these symptoms mildly to profoundly which can really interfere with daily life. Hearing loss strains communication, impacting all aspects of life: career, social engagement, relationships, hobbies etc. Untreated hearing loss can deepen the impairment and contribute to other medical conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s Disease & Hearing Loss
Research has identified a strong correlation between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss. Both conditions share several similarities including:
- age is the strongest predictor
- adults over 65:
- 1 in 10 (10%) have Alzheimer’s
- 25% have hearing los
- adults 75 and over
- Account for 80% of all people with Alzheimer’s
- 50% have disabling hearing loss
- adults over 65:
- both are progressive conditions with multifactorial causes and no cure
- cognitive function is impacted
Studies have shown that hearing loss accelerates cognitive decline. Revealing that the risk of cognitive decline
- doubles for people with mild hearing loss
- triples for people with moderate hearing loss
These groundbreaking statistics highlight that the conditions are not only linked but that the degree of hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive decline. It also underscores the importance of treating hearing loss as a preventative measure!
What to Expect from a Hearing Test
You may feel nervous or anxious about getting your hearing tested. But hearing tests are painless and relatively simple! During your appointment, you can expect the following:
- Health History Intake: similar to most medical appointments, you will provide your medical and hearing health history. This includes identifying any health conditions, medications, genetic history that may be useful in diagnosing hearing loss. You will likely describe any symptoms (if you have any) you may be experiencing that could signal impairment.
- Hearing Test: conducted by a hearing healthcare specialist (likely an audiologist), hearing tests involve you wearing headphones and stepping into a sound booth, it could also be just a quiet room. The headphones will be connected to a machine that plays sounds at different volumes and you will indicate what you can hear.
- Sharing Results: the audiologist will show you your results on a graph which will visually illustrate your hearing ability in both ears. This will establish any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you could be experiencing.
The information gathered during this appointment informs the most effective treatment options to meet your hearing needs. Fortunately, there are useful ways to treat hearing loss that help increase one’s ability to hear. Treatment can drastically improve health and decrease your risk of developing various conditions including Alzheimer’s.