November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Here at Atlanta Hearing Doctor, we would like to contribute to the awareness around this disease by discussing the benefits of treating hearing loss – including the potential to reduce the risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that worsens over time. Though symptoms are treatable, Alzheimer’s is the sixth most common cause of death in the United States. Though dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are used interchangeably, Alzheimer’s disease is actually a form of dementia and accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia cases. Dementia describes symptoms of an overall decline in cognitive ability that interferes with daily life.
With dementia, people may have problems with short-term memory as well as communication and language. Alzheimer’s specifically affects parts of the brain that control language, memory, and thought and currently has no cure.
Fortunately, treatments are available in the form of medication and lifestyle changes. Additionally, medical professionals offer potential prevention techniques: keeping the brain fit with mental stimulation and an active social life. With recent studies linking dementia to untreated hearing loss, Americans over the age of 65 should consider getting a hearing test.
How is Hearing Loss Related to Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease?
In the US, hearing loss affects one in three people age 65 and older. Two studies from Johns Hopkins University found potential links between dementia and hearing loss. In a study with 639 test subjects, researchers found that over the course of 12 to 18 years, those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia than those who had normal hearing or used hearing devices. With the understanding that it is our brains that hear, the neural pathways that register sound waves as sounds we recognize are located in our complex auditory systems, which include the auditory cortex of the brain. These pathways become inactive with untreated hearing loss.
As a result, with untreated hearing loss, our brains attempt to fill in the gaps which may cause a larger cognitive load that is taxing on brain functions. Johns Hopkins researchers found that untreated hearing loss lead to a change in brain structure as well as reduced social engagement. With untreated hearing loss, people are less likely to engage as they once did with their friends and family, community, as well as participate in the hobbies and activities they once loved. This withdrawal also has adverse effects on the brain.
How Hearing Aids Help Your Social and Cognitive Abilities
Social isolation and diminished cognitive abilities both raise the risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Similarly, social isolation and diminished cognitive abilities appear in the experience of untreated hearing loss. The physical and emotional effects of hearing loss, if left untreated, have adverse effects on a person’s daily life and interpersonal relationships. Even the most active individuals may find themselves less interested in social events, interacting with friends and family, and due to stress and anxiety, more prone to social isolation.
On average, people wait seven years from the time they notice early symptoms of hearing loss until the time they decide to get their hearing tested. Hearing specialists recommend getting a hearing test sooner rather than later, as it is beneficial to treat hearing before the neural pathways begin to deteriorate from inactivity. If a hearing loss is found, the most common treatment is the prescription of hearing aids.
With hearing loss, these audio signals become muddled. With incomplete and unclear signals, our brains struggle to make sense of what we’re hearing. Hearing aids assist the auditory process by picking up sounds from our environment, and clarifying and organizing these auditory signals into sounds our brains register clearly. Furthermore, hearing aids assist with speech recognition, which makes conversations and social interactions much easier. Challenges with speech recognition are related to social withdrawal and isolation, commonly experienced by people with untreated hearing loss.
Hearing aids are equipped with speech recognition features to ensure that conversations, whether one-on-one or in a big group setting, are accessible to you. Because good communication is the bedrock of strong relationships, the use of hearing aids keeps us connected to the relationships that matter most to us – ensuring that we are not isolated socially.
Visit Us at Atlanta Hearing Doctor
If you find major changes in your memory, your energy level, and your engagement with people around you, changes in your hearing may be the cause. A simple hearing test will give you the information you need to take steps toward better hearing and overall health. If you, or someone you love, are experiencing changes in their hearing, schedule an appointment with us at Atlanta Hearing Doctor today.