Alzheimer’s disease is a disabling form of dementia that affects 5.8 million Americans, with a new case emerging every 65 seconds. This sweeping cognitive disease most typically emerges with aging populations over age 65, but around 1 in 30 cases of the condition develops before 65 with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Most associated with memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease is marked by symptoms of profound cognitive impairment. This month, World Alzheimer’s Month, a public campaign raises awareness about dementia, including new research pathways for the disease. One aspect of dementia hat is becoming better understood is its connection to untreated hearing loss. Backed by recent long-term studies, hearing loss that goes unaddressed dramatically increases a person’s risk of cognitive decline.
The Link: Hearing Loss and Dementia
The connection between untreated hearing loss and dementia isn’t intuitive at first. However, when research showed a clear link between the two, experts looked for answers. While the exact mechanics of the relationship are still being uncovered, it appears that the cognitive side of hearing loss can place stress on other cognitive health factors.
When hearing loss goes unaddressed, sounds come to us ill-defined. A person with hearing loss often has to decipher meaning from a sound that comes in muffled, incomplete or otherwise confusing. The brain has to perform extra legwork to parse the incoming noises. Often much of comprehension is lost, or done with a high risk of inaccuracy. Additionally, the brain needs extra time and resources to try to hear. Our mind overwrites old hearing pathways in the auditory cortex and cobbles together new strategies for interpreting sound.
The extra energy required for hearing with hearing loss isn’t a small matter. It can be frustrating and draining just to keep up with a conversation or navigate a noisy environment. Hearing loss also pulls mental resources away from other tasks, shortchanging other parts of our cognitive whole. This effect is part of what links hearing loss to a greater risk of falling accidents – our mental attention to balance and bodily coordination is compromised by the energy it takes to hear.
This cognitive rearrangement also puts a person at higher risk for developing dementia. It is thought that the cognitive strain provoked by hearing loss can create harm to other cognitive areas. The redistribution of mental resources towards hearing comprehension may also disrupt other familiar cognitive patterns.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease manifests as a bevy of symptoms that worsen overtime in an overall profound cognitive decline. The disorder is most associated with memory problems, especially in remembering recently learned information, but many other signs of cognitive challenges also are part of dementia.
Confusion is another common indicator of Alzheimer’s. A person may be disoriented about the time, place and people around them. Problem solving and planning can become frustrating, disorganized and impossible. Procedural memory – such as how to do everyday tasks- can be disrupted when Alzheimer’s is present.
Spatial and emotional skills are also overturned by Alzheimer’s disease. The onset of Alzheimer’s may be marked by noticeable negative changes in mood. Withdrawal from socializing and isolation can also indicate cognitive changes. Trouble with interpreting visual and spatial information may arise as a sign of Alzheimer’s. Losing items and being unable to retrace a day’s activities may become a frequent situation.
In all the ways Alzheimer’s develops it limits quality of life and the ability to care for one’s self. While addressing mental issues may be daunting, monitoring cognitive changes and consulting with your physician when they occur are important factors in treating Alzheimer’s. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, early detection and treatment can often improve health and delay cognitive decline.
Treating Hearing Loss
A powerful tool for minimizing your risk of developing dementia is treating hearing loss. Hearing aids and assistive devices alleviate much of the mental strain hearing loss creates. In long term studies of people with hearing loss, those who treated their impairment with hearing aids had the same risk of developing dementia as those with healthy hearing. People who left their hearing loss unaddressed had a significantly greater risk of dementia. Risk increased 20% for each 10 decibels of hearing loss present.
Staying on top of your hearing is a great way to show concern for your total health and Crescent City Hearing is a great place to get started. Contact us today!