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

In seniors who have memory loss or impaired cognitive function, the underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. However, current research indicates that these issues may be the result of a much more treatable condition and that at least some of the concern may baseless.

According to a Canadian Medical Journal report, the symptoms that actually might be the results of neglected hearing loss are sometimes mistaken as the product of Alzheimer’s.

In the Canadian study, researchers looked for connections to brain conditions by closely evaluating participants functional abilities pertaining to memory and thought. 56 percent of individuals evaluated for mental impairment had mild to extreme hearing loss. Astonishingly, only about 20 percent of those people reported using a hearing aid.

A clinical neuropsychologist who served as one of the study’s authors said the findings support anecdotal evidence they’ve observed when seeing patients who are worried that they may 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 told them and in some cases, it was the patient’s loved one who suggested an appointment with a physician.

The Blurred Line Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

While loss of hearing might not be the first thing an aging adult thinks of when faced with potential cognitive damage, it’s easy to see how one can mistake it for Alzheimer’s.

Think of a scenario where your best friend asks you for a favor. For example, they have an upcoming trip and need a ride to the airport. What if you couldn’t clearly hear them ask? Would you try to get them to repeat themselves? If you still aren’t sure what they said, is there any possible way you would recognize that you were supposed to drive them to the airport?

It’s that line of thinking that leads hearing professionals to believe some people could be diagnosing themselves incorrectly with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it could very well be a persistent and progressive hearing issue. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you don’t hear to begin with.

Gradual Loss of Hearing is Normal, But There Are Ways to Treat it

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) estimates that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling loss of hearing. In the meantime, that number rises 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 part of growing older, often goes untreated because people just accept it as part of life. In fact, it takes around 10 years on average for someone to get treatment for hearing loss. Worse, less than 25 percent of people who need hearing aids will ultimately buy them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever truly wondered if you were one of the millions of Americans who have loss of hearing severe 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 understanding words?
  • Is it difficult to engage in conversations in a noisy room so you avoid social situations?
  • Is hearing consonants hard?
  • Do I have to crank up the radio or TV to hear them.
  • How often do I ask people to talk louder or slower?

Science has definitely found a connection between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, however they are not the same. A Johns Hopkins study tested the mental abilities of 639 people who reported no cognitive impairments, then followed their progress and aging for 12 to 18 years. The results discovered that the people who experienced worse hearing at the onset of the study were more likely to get dementia, an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and cognitive function.

Getting a hearing assessment is one way you can prevent any confusion between Alzheimer’s and loss of hearing. The prevailing thought among the health care community is that this evaluating should be a regular part of your yearly physical, especially for people who are over 65 years old.

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 evaluation. Make an appointment for a hearing exam right away.