Celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month with a Hearing Test!

In Dementia & Alzheimer's Disease, Hearing Loss by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A
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Imagine, if you will, what happens in your mind during a conversation with another person. As they speak, your ears receive fine-grained sonic information and translate that information into electrical impulses. Those electrical impulses, in turn, are transmitted to the brain where they can be analyzed, categorized, and synthesized into units of thought: words, phrases, sentences, and complex meanings. What a remarkable process!

Now consider how that process might work for someone with hearing loss. Rather than the complete sound of words and sentences, the ears only hear random bits of sound. That sound is passed along to the brain where it appears as a puzzle. Rather than recognizable units of language that one has heard and acquired in the past, these bits of sound don’t seem to fit together at all.

In an attempt to make sense of the conversation, the brain tries putting together some sounds that might make up a word, only to find out that that word doesn’t fit in the rest of the context. With the context jumbled, another mélange of sound is on its way. In the state of confusion, a new batch of sound must be reassembled into something meaningful, hopefully something that connects with the rest of the conversation.

Cognitive Overload with Untreated Hearing Loss

With such a frustrating, rapid, and anxiety-ridden process, it is no wonder that the brain can become overloaded. Like trying to race against the clock to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, the frustration can become overwhelming, and many people are tempted to check out of conversations altogether. The current state of cognitive science points to this struggle as well as the indirect relationship with social isolation as one of the potential ways that hearing loss might be connected to a seemingly unrelated condition: Alzheimer’s disease.

World Alzheimer’s Month

We set aside every September to honor World Alzheimer’s Month, not only remembering those who have the disease but also those researchers and caregivers who devote their energies to helping those in need. With this remarkable connection between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss, research has been devoted to discovering what can be done to break the cycle of misunderstanding and cognitive struggle.

Hearing Loss Treatment & Cognitive Decline Prevention

A recent study out of France took 25 years of longitudinal data to consider what happens when someone wears hearing aids. Hearing aids have the potential to add puzzle pieces back into the process of encoding meaning. Even if they don’t restore hearing ability to perfect precision, they do provide the brain with more sonic information to use in the process of discovering the meaning of a conversation, and the relief on cognition is remarkable. This study considered what happened when someone who had hearing loss wore hearing aids. Rather than experiencing cognitive decline, these people who wore hearing aids did not look any different than those who had no hearing loss at all!

Of course, this finding is not to say that some people who wore hearing aids did not experience cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Indeed, these conditions strike those without hearing loss, as well.

Yet, anything that can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia comes as a welcome innovation. For those who have hearing loss, it looks like using hearing aids might be the ticket to lower risk.

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

What is the first step to take if you wonder if you have hearing loss? Scheduling a hearing test right away is the key to making sure you don’t spend time struggling against the conversational puzzle. That relation with cognitive decline is nothing to scoff at, so the earlier you get the test, the better.

At your hearing test, we will diagnose your needs and recommend a range of hearing aids or other assistive technology suited to your individual lifestyle. The latest hearing aids come with exciting features and technologies, and, in many cases,  you can end up with a hybrid pair of “earbuds” that not only assist your hearing but also stream to phone calls, media players, and television when the time is right. If these features don’t appeal to you, of course you can get traditional aids to be used exclusively for hearing amplification. Don’t delay getting your test so that you can connect with the treatment you need!