September is World Alzheimer’s Month! Launched in 2012, this is a global campaign to raise awareness about the rapid rise of dementia. Dementia refers to a group of medical conditions that cause cognitive decline. Characterized by a reduced ability to remember, make decisions, solve problems, and concentrate; dementia can prevent people from navigating daily life independently. There are several types of dementia including: Lewy Body, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and vascular. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all cases. Also, the most severe, Alzheimer’s impacts nearly 6 million people in the U.S. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this number is expected to more than double by 2050, reaching 13.8 million.
World Alzheimer’s Month is part of the global effort to figure out new ways to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s. One action that people can take to reduce their risk is prioritizing their hearing health. Hearing loss has been identified as a contributing factor to cognitive decline. This month is a great time to schedule an appointment to have your hearing tested!
Understanding Hearing Loss
In the U.S., over 40 million people have some degree of hearing loss which is the third most common chronic condition that older adults experience. There are several causes of hearing loss including exiting medical conditions (hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes etc.), environmental exposure to loud noise, genetic history, and aging. These factors can damage various parts of the auditory system that are critical to how we hear, including:
- Outer Ear: absorbs sound from the environment which travels down the ear canal and lands on the eardrum causing it to vibrate
- Middle Ear: this movement triggers the ossicles – three tiny bones that are connected – which amplify and help push the soundwaves further into the ear
- Inner Ear: activating the cochlea, filled with thousands of hair cells and fluid which help translate the soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain (via nerve pathways) to be processed.
Most commonly, hearing loss results from damage of the hair cells in the inner ear. Humans are born with all the hair cells in the inner ear that we will ever have, meaning that these cells (unlike other types of cells) do not regenerate. This also means that any damage is permanent, resulting in hearing loss that cannot be cured but only treated.
Link Between Alzheimer’s & Hearing Loss
Research identifies a strong correlation between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss which share several similarities:
- Age is strongest predictor
- Adults ages 65 and older
- 1 in 10 have Alzheimer’s
- 25% have hearing loss
- Adults ages 75 and older
- Account for 80% of people with Alzheimer’s
- 50% have disabling hearing los
- Chronic conditions that have many causes and are incurable
- Impact cognitive function(s)
- Symptoms: confusion, strained communication, social withdrawal
- Adults ages 65 and older
Studies have investigated this link and found that hearing loss actually increases the risk of cognitive development. Compared to people without hearing loss, cognitive decline can be:
- Twice as likely for people with mild hearing loss
- Three times as likely for people with moderate hearing loss
- Up to five times as likely for people with profound hearing loss
These groundbreaking statistics also highlight that the degree of hearing loss can increase the likelihood of dementia.
What to Expect from Hearing Test
Identifying and treating hearing loss can substantially reduce the risk of developing various medical conditions including Alzheimer’s. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process that measures your hearing ability in both ears. During this appointment can expect to:
- Similar to most medical appointments, there will be a general intake of your medical and hearing health history
- Have your hearing assessed which happens by wearing headphones connected to an audiometer which will play various sounds at different pitches. You’ll be guided through the sounds by the specialist and will indicate what you hear
- Your results will be shared on a graph which will show any impairment and the degree
Fortunately, there are effective ways that hearing loss is treated which can improve your overall health and quality of life! Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test!