Alzheimer’s Disease & Hearing Health
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and fatal brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. As many as 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, from 2000-2006, deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease increased 47.1 percent. With a rapidly aging population, Alzheimer's will continue to impact more lives in the coming years. (Source: Alzheimer’s Association
Studies show that hearing loss frequently coexists with Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, there is strong evidence that hearing impairment contributes to the progression of cognitive dysfunction in older adults. Unmanaged hearing loss can interrupt the cognitive processing of spoken language and sound, regardless of other coexisting conditions.
But when an individual has both Alzheimer’s and hearing loss, many of the symptoms of hearing loss can interact with those common to Alzheimer’s making the disease more challenging than if the hearing loss had been addressed.
Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, increased risk to personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, and diminished psychological and overall health.
Studies also have shown that although a significantly higher percentage of patients with Alzheimer’s disease may have hearing loss than their normally aging peers, they are much less likely to receive attention for their hearing needs.
Research has shown that the use of hearing aids, especially in combination with appropriate aural rehabilitation in a multidisciplinary setting, has helped to reduce Alzheimer’s patients’ symptoms of depression, passivity, negativism, disorientation, anxiety, social isolation, feelings of helplessness, loss of independence and general cognitive decline.
A comprehensive hearing assessment should be part of any Alzheimer’s diagnosis and hearing loss should be addressed. Most hearing loss can be managed with hearing aids. Audiologists can contribute important information necessary for the initial diagnosis and appropriate hearing health follow-up.
About Hearing Loss in the Aging Population
Warning Signs and the Importance of Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease
- More than 34.5 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss—approximately one in 10 individuals.
- Among Americans ages 46 to 64, about 15 percent already have hearing problems, according to a survey by the Better Hearing Institute.
- Sixty percent of people with hearing loss are below retirement age.
- Sixty percent of people with hearing loss are male.
- Only 15 percent of physicians today screen their patients for hearing loss during physical exams.
- Only 40% of people with moderate to severe hearing loss currently wear hearing aids; while 9% with mild hearing loss use them.
- Hearing loss is associated with short-term memory loss. According to a study at Brandeis University, older adults with mild to moderate hearing loss expended so much cognitive energy on trying to hear accurately that it diminished their ability to remember a short word list. As a result, their cognitive functioning was poorer than those individuals of the same age that had good hearing.
- The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) reported that hearing loss in older persons can have a significant negative impact on quality of life. An NCOA survey found that people with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia and less likely to participate in organized activities, compared to those who wore hearing aids.
- Advances in digital technology have dramatically improved hearing aids—they are smaller than ever with far better sound quality.
- A promising advancement related to the use of Bluetooth technology is the ability to make hearing aids compatible with cell phones, currently of serious concern to hearing aid users. Another recent development is the development of wireless capability in hearing aids, which hold the promise of making public places more accessible to those with hearing loss.
(Source: Alzheimer’s Association
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and no method to prevent its onset. Early detection is our only management tool, allowing those living with the disease – and their families – time to plan for the future. This may include building the correct medical team, enrolling in clinical studies or investing in safety measures.
Many people struggle to determine if a behavior is a typical age-related change or the first sign of Alzheimer's disease. To help, the Alzheimer’s Association has created this list of warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Every individual may experience one or more of these in different degrees. If you notice any of them, please see a doctor.
- Memory changes that disrupt daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
To learn more about the 10 signs, please contact the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org/10signs
or 877-IS IT ALZ (877.474.8259). As a member of the AEDA, the Better Hearing Institute will work to provide reliable information about Alzheimer’s disease and early detection during the upcoming months.
If you or a loved one is affected by Alzheimer’s disease, turn to the Alzheimer’s Association for support and services. Information is available online at www.alz.org
or by calling the Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 1.800.272.3900.