Use this September which is World Alzheimer’s Month, as an important reminder to prioritize your hearing health! Identifying and treating hearing loss can reduce the risk of experiencing cognitive decline and conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Launched in 2012 by Alzheimer’s Disease International, this global campaign focuses on raising awareness about Alzheimer’s which is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease does not have identifiable causes and likely occurs as a result of a variety of factors that impact people differently. Experts and extensive research emphasizes identifying risk factors that can prevent or delay its development. One useful intervention is treating hearing loss which enhances brain health!
What is Known About Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological condition that reduces cognitive capacities related to memory, thinking, decision making, and learning. It typically starts with mild memory loss and can gradually escalate to difficulty remembering family and friends, completing tasks, making decisions, and participating in conversations. These symptoms can lead to personality changes, social withdrawal, and ability to manage everyday things. People experiencing late stage Alzehimer’s can require consistent care and assistance with navigating daily life.
Currently, Alzheimer’s impacts 6.2 million people in the United States alone. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this is projected to rapidly increase, reaching 12.7 million by 2050. Research has shown that changes to the brain can happen years before Alzheimer’s symptoms appear. This reveals a window of time for intervention measures that could prevent or delay its onset. One such intervention is treating hearing loss.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Nearly 48 million people have some degree of hearing loss, making it the third most common chronic condition that people live with today. A pervasive health concern, hearing loss can be caused by a range of factors including: environmental exposure to loud noise, aging, and existing medical conditions. Sensorineural hearing loss, the most common type, occurs when hair cells in the inner ear are damaged. These hair cells are responsible for translating incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to be further processed. THis is what enables us to understand what we hear.
Impaired hearing reduces a person’s ability to perceive and process sound, producing various symptoms including:
- Tinnitus: a buzzing, ringing, or clicking like noise in one or both ears
- Increasing the volume on electronic devices
- Sounds are slurred or muffled
- Asking others to repeat themselves, speak louder, and/or slower
- Difficulty distinguishing words and navigating conversations
These symptoms take a toll on communication and can lead to social withdrawal, strained relationships, and increased health risks including developing Alzheimer’s.
Impact of Hearing Loss on Brain Health
Hearing is a process that happens in both the ears and the brain. Research suggests that hearing loss can affect brain health in a variety of ways including:
- brain atrophy: these areas responsible for processing sound and assigning meaning to that sound become underutilized. This changes neural networks, can contribute to the shrinking of these areas, and general inactivity which decreases function.
- cognitive overload: other areas of the brain can intervene, trying to compensate for this inactivity by taking over the work of these areas. This can stretch and overload the brain, reducing cognitive capacity.
- social withdrawal: a significant effect of untreated hearing loss is social withdrawal. Interacting less with others, participating in social activities, and avoiding conversations results in reduced stimulation and engagement for the brain. This can also contribute to cognitive decline.
The most effective way to alleviate hearing loss symptoms and the far reaching effects they have is to seek treatment as early as possible.
Hearing Aids Can Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s
The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. These are electronic devices that are designed to absorb and process sound. This maximizes hearing which offers numerous benefits including strengthening brain health. Hearing aids support and expand brain capacity to perceive and process sounds, strengthening cognitive functions and overall performance. Studies have shown that hearing aids can improve memory, ability to organize information, and complete tasks.
We encourage you to participate in World Alzheimer’s Month by scheduling an appointment for a hearing test! Contact us today.