Is it Dementia or Hearing Loss?

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

In seniors who have loss of memory or impaired cognitive function, the inherent dread of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. However, recent research shows that at least some of that worry might be baseless and that these problems could be the outcome of a far more treatable affliction.

According to a Canadian Medical Journal report, the symptoms some believe to be a product of Alzheimer’s could in fact be a repercussion of neglected hearing loss.

For the Canadian study, researchers carefully assessed participant’s functional capabilities pertaining to memory and thought and looked for any connections to potential brain disorders. 56 percent of those examined for mental impairment had mild to extreme hearing loss. Astonishingly, only around 20 percent of those people reported using a hearing aid.

These findings are backed up by patients who were concerned that they may have symptoms of Alzheimer’s according to a clinical neuropsychologist who was one of the authors of the paper. In many instances, it was a patient’s loved ones who recommended the visit to the doctor because they observed gaps in memory or shortened attention.

The Line Between Alzheimer’s And Hearing Loss is Blurred

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 consider.

Envision a scenario where your friend asks you for a favor. Case in point, perhaps they are looking for a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What if you couldn’t clearly hear them ask? Would you ask them to repeat themselves? If you still aren’t certain what they said, is there any possible way you would know that you were supposed to drive them to the airport?

It’s likely that some people might have misdiagnosed themselves with Alzheimer’s because of this type of thinking according to hearing specialists. Instead, it may very well be an ongoing and progressive hearing problem. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear to begin with.

Gradual Hearing Loss is Normal, But it Can be Treated

It’s not surprising that people of an advanced age are experiencing these problems given the correlation between aging and the likelihood of having hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating loss of hearing. In the meantime, 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 those 75-years or older.

Gradual loss of hearing, which is a typical part of aging, often goes neglected because people just accept it as a normal part of life. In fact, it takes about 10 years on average for someone to get treatment for loss of hearing. 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 truly wondered whether you were one of the millions of Americans with loss of hearing serious enough that it needs to be dealt with, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Consider the following questions:

  • If there is a lot of background noise, do I have a problem comprehending words?
  • Do I always ask others to speak louder or slower?
  • Do I avoid social situations because holding a conversation in a busy room is hard?
  • Do I regularly need to increase the volume on the radio or television to hear?
  • Do I have difficulty 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 evaluated the mental capabilities of 639 people who reported no cognitive impairments, then followed their progress and aging for 12 to 18 years. The study found that the worse the hearing loss at the beginning of the study, the more likely the person was to develop symptoms of dementia which is a term that refers to impaired thought and memory.

Getting a hearing screening is one way you can avoid any confusion between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss. This should be a part of your normal annual physical especially if you are over 65.

Do You Have Any Questions About Hearing Loss?

We can help with a full hearing assessment if you think there is a chance you might be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s. Make an appointment for a hearing exam 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.