Chances are, you may know someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. This person may even be close to you, a family member, or a loved one. The lapses of memory, disorientation, and feelings of alienation can be devastating, sometimes making the person with Alzheimer’s disease feel that the people in the room are strangers, even if those people are family.
The effects on the person with Alzheimer’s disease can’t be fully understood after a person has advanced to serious loss of cognitive functioning; it is unclear at some point what a person does and does not understand about reality. However, the effects on family and loved ones are undeniable. When Alzheimer’s progresses to this serious degree it can feel as if the person is lost, unable to anchor to the world or the shared experiences you can remember so well.
Such a heartbreaking condition is cause for ever-greater support and research. Although great strides have already been made in understanding the nature of the condition, more can be discovered when it comes to the possibilities for treatment, prevention, and someday a cure. For these reasons, September has been named World Alzheimer’s Month, taking the opportunity to celebrate the strides that have already been made while also issuing a call to action for greater funding and research into the causes of the condition.
A Link between Hearing Loss and Dementia
One of the surprising connections that has already been discovered through research is the link between hearing loss and dementia (Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia). At face value, you might wonder how this connection could be, particularly when the ears are so distinct from the complex process of thinking.
The part of the brain used for hearing is located in a different place from the home of memory, which can degenerate with the progression of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Nonetheless, a strong correlation has been discovered between the two conditions. Dr. Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins University has led a number of studies into this relationship. In one study, his team found that those who had hearing loss were 24 percent more likely to develop dementia than their counterparts with full hearing ability. This significant fining led his team and others to further investigate the relationship.
In order to understand the nature of the relationship, a team of French researchers led by Professor Hélène Amieva at Université Victor Segalen studied the effect of hearing aids on the incidence of dementia. They followed a large group of 3,670 randomly selected individuals aged 65 and older and checked in regularly with questionnaires about their experiences of hearing and memory. Over the course of 25 years, this study did find that those with untreated hearing loss had a greater incidence of dementia, just as Dr. Frank Lin had found. However, they also found that those who wore hearing aids did not have that increased likelihood of cognitive decline! It seems that wearing hearing aids was just as good as if there was no hearing loss at all when it comes to the effect on cognition.
Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss
This important finding about the use of hearing aids and dementia gives us some crucial information about the nature of the connection between them. Rather than a direct connection, such as one located in brain anatomy or chemistry, it seems that the relationship between hearing loss and dementia occurs in the use of hearing. One possibility is that the communication process is the real culprit. Imagine those who have untreated hearing loss in a conversation. These people only receive tiny fragments of sound, yet they are expected to put together complex meanings from what they hear. Without the ability to hear complete sentences, a conversation becomes a puzzle without all the pieces, and the mind scrambles to make sense of things. These studies suggest that the process of mental scrambling can spread to other cognitive processes beyond the conversation.
Hearing Care Centers
Why not take the opportunity of World Alzheimer’s Month to seek out treatment for yourself or a loved one with hearing loss? The use of hearing aids just might be able to prevent Alzheimer’s, and they will have benefits in many other parts of life, as well. Scheduling a hearing test and consultation with our team at Hearing Care Centers is a simple first step you can take this month, so why delay?