Is it Dementia or Hearing Loss?

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

An inherent fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant in seniors who struggle with the symptoms of loss of memory and diminished cognitive function. However, recent research indicates that these problems might be the result of a much more treatable condition and that some of the worry may baseless.

According to a Canadian Medical Journal Study, the symptoms that actually could be the consequences of untreated hearing loss are sometimes mistaken as the product of Alzheimer’s.

In the Canadian study, researchers closely examined participant’s functional capabilities pertaining to memory and thought and looked for any links to possible brain disorders. Of those they screened for mental impairments, 56 percent had hearing loss that spanned from mild to extreme. Unexpectedly, a hearing aid was worn by only 20 percent of those people.

A clinical neuropsychologist who served as one of the study’s authors said the findings back up anecdotal evidence they’ve observed when examining patients who are worried that they might have Alzheimer’s. In many cases, it was a patient’s loved ones who recommended the visit to the doctor because they noticed memory lapses or shortened attention span.

The Line is Blurred Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

It’s easy to see how a person could link cognitive decline with Alzheimer’s because hearing loss is not the first thing that an older adult would consider.

Imagine a situation where your friend asks you for a favor. For instance, they have an upcoming trip and need a ride to the airport. What if you didn’t clearly hear them ask you? Would you ask them to repeat it? Is there any way you would recognize that you were expected to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s that kind of thinking that leads hearing specialists to believe some people could be diagnosing themselves incorrectly with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it could very well be a persistent and progressive hearing issue. Simply put, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear in the first place.

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

Considering the connection between advanced age with an increased probability of hearing loss, it’s not surprising that people of a certain age could be experiencing these problems. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) states that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling loss of hearing. Meanwhile, that number jumps 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 those 75-years or older.

Though it’s true that gradual loss of hearing is a common trait of aging, people commonly just tolerate it because they believe it’s just a part of life. The fact is, the average time it takes for someone to get treatment for hearing loss is around 10 years. Worse, less than 25 percent of people who need hearing aids will ultimately buy them.

Is it Possible That You Could Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve thought about whether 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. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I regularly ask people to talk louder or slower?
  • Is it difficult to have conversations in a crowded room so you avoid social situations?
  • If there is a lot of background sound, do I have an issue comprehending words?
  • Do I constantly need to raise the volume on the radio or television to hear them?
  • Do I have trouble hearing consonants?

It’s important to point out 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 studied 639 people who noted no cognitive impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The study found that the worse the hearing loss at the start of the study, the more likely the person was to develop symptoms of dementia which is a term that refers to diminished memory and thought.

Getting a hearing evaluating is one way you can eliminate any misunderstandings between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss. This should be a part of your normal annual physical especially if you are over 65 years old.

Do You Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

If you think you could be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s, we can help you with a complete hearing examination. Make an appointment for a hearing test right away.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.