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 reduced cognitive function. However, recent research suggests that these problems could be the result of a far more treatable condition and that some of the worry might unjustified.

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

In the Canadian study, researchers looked for links to brain disorders by closely evaluating participants functional capabilities pertaining to memory and thought. Of those they examined for cognitive impairments, 56 percent had loss of hearing that spanned from mild to severe. Surprisingly, 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 support anecdotal evidence they’ve observed when examining patients who are concerned that they might have Alzheimer’s. In many instances, the reason for that patient’s visit to the doctor was because of their shortened attention span or a failure to remember things their partner said to them and in some cases, it was the patient’s loved one who suggested a check-up with a doctor.

The Line Between Alzheimer’s And Hearing Loss is Blurred

While hearing loss may not be the first thing an older adult considers when faced with potential cognitive decline, it’s easy to see how someone can mistake it for Alzheimer’s.

Think of a situation where your friend asks you for a favor. For instance, let’s say they are looking for a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What would happen if you didn’t hear their question clearly? Would you try to have them to repeat themselves? Is there any way you would recognize that you were supposed to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s that line of thinking that leads hearing specialists to believe some people could be diagnosing themselves inaccurately with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it could very well be an ongoing and progressive hearing issue. Simply put, you can’t remember something that you didn’t hear to begin with.

Progressive Loss of Hearing 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 only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling loss of hearing. In the meantime, that number jumps significantly 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.

Gradual hearing loss, which is a typical part of aging, often goes neglected because people just accept it as a normal part of life. The truth is, the average time it takes for somebody to get treatment for hearing loss is about 10 years. 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 really wondered whether you were one of the millions of Americans who have hearing loss severe enough that it needs to be dealt with, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have difficulty hearing consonants?
  • Do I have issues understanding words if there is a lot of background noise?
  • Do I try to avoid social events because having a conversation in a loud room is difficult?
  • Do I have to turn up the radio or TV to hear them.
  • How often do I have to ask people to speak louder or slower?

It’s important to note that while loss of hearing can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has shown a conclusive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study analyzed the mental abilities of 639 people who noted no mental impairments, then followed their progress and aging for 12 to 18 years. The research discovered that the participants who experienced worse hearing at the onset of the study were more likely to get dementia, a general term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and thought.

There is one way you might be able to avoid any potential misunderstandings between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, and that is to have a hearing assessment. The prevailing thought among the health care community is that this assessment should be a regular part of your annual physical, particularly for people who are over 65.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

If you think you may be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s, we can help you with a complete hearing assessment. 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.