Woman with hearing loss concerned about Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

In seniors with loss of memory or diminished mental function, the underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. But the latest research shows that at least some of that worry might be unjustified and that these problems may be the consequences of a far more treatable condition.

According to a report published in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms some think might be the result of Alzheimer’s may actually be a consequence of untreated hearing loss.

In the Canadian study, researchers closely examined participant’s functional abilities associated with memory and thought and searched for any links to potential brain disorders. Out of those they screened for mental impairments, 56 percent had hearing loss that spanned from mild to extreme. Shockingly, only around 20 percent of those individuals reported using a hearing aid.

These findings are supported by patients who were concerned that they may have symptoms of Alzheimer’s according to a clinical neuropsychologist who authored the study. In many circumstances, the reason behind that patient’s visit to the doctor was because of their shortened attention span or a failure to remember things their partner told them and in many cases, it was the patient’s loved one who suggested an appointment with a physician.

The Line is Blurred Between Loss of Hearing And Alzheimer’s

It’s easy to understand how someone could associate mental decline with Alzheimer’s because loss of hearing is not the first thing that an aging adult would think of.

Imagine a situation where your best friend asks you for a favor. For example, they have an upcoming trip and need a ride to the airport. What if you didn’t clearly hear them ask? Would you try to have them to repeat themselves? If you still aren’t sure what they said, is there any possible way you would recognize that you were supposed to drive them to the airport?

It’s that line of thinking that leads hearing specialists to believe some people could be diagnosing themselves erroneously with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it may very well be a persistent and progressive hearing issue. If you didn’t hear what someone said, then you can’t be expected to remember it.

Gradual Loss of Hearing is Normal, But it Can be Treated

Given the connection between advanced age with an increased chance of hearing loss, it’s no surprise that people of a certain age may be experiencing these troubles. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating hearing loss. Meanwhile, that number rises considerably for older age brackets, coming in at 8.5 percent for 55- to 64-year-olds; 25 percent for 65- to 74-year-olds; and 50 percent for people 75-years or older.

Even though it’s true that gradual hearing loss is a normal part of getting older, people commonly just tolerate it because they believe it’s a part of life. In fact, it takes about 10 years on average for a person to get treatment for hearing loss. Worse, less than 25 percent of people who need hearing aids will actually get them.

Is it Possible That You Might Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever wondered if you have hearing loss severe enough to need to be addressed like millions of other Americans, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Consider the following questions:

  • How often do I ask people to talk slower or louder?
  • Do I have difficulty hearing consonants?
  • Do I have to turn up the radio or TV to hear them.
  • Do I have a problem comprehending words if there’s a lot of background noise?
  • Is it difficult to engage in conversations in a noisy room so you stay away from social situations?

It’s important to note that while loss of hearing can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has proven a definitive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 people who noted no cognitive impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The results found that the people who had worse hearing at the onset of the study were more likely to get dementia, an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and thought.

There is one way you might be able to eliminate any potential confusion between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, and that is to have a hearing screening. The current thought among the health care community is that this screening should be a regular part of your yearly physical, particularly for those who are over 65 years old.

Do You Have Any Questions About Hearing Loss?

If you think you might be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s, we can help you with a complete hearing examination. Make your appointment for an exam today.