Now that we’re in November, the holidays are just around the corner. At South Shore Hearing Center, we believe that treating hearing loss keeps you connected to your friends and loved ones. As you prepare to get together with family and friends, catching up and making memories requires great communication! You don’t want to miss a minute with untreated hearing loss.
As November is also National Alzheimer’s Awareness month, we also want to shed light on another great reason to treat hearing loss: untreated hearing loss is a major risk factor for developing dementia. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan established November as National Alzheimer’s Awareness month. Since then, a large body of research has explored a link between untreated hearing loss, social isolation, and a risk for developing dementia – and thus, Alzheimer’s disease.
A Natural Part of Aging?
Over 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. By the time Americans enter their 70s, about 2/3 are suffering from some degree of hearing loss. While hearing loss is often perceived as a natural part of aging, it should be addressed and treated – just like having issues with sight and getting glasses. Not addressing hearing loss could diminish your enjoyment of life, from socializing to experiencing stress and depression.
While age-related hearing loss is a natural part of aging for many, Alzheimer’s disease is not. Research has indicated that untreated hearing loss is one of the factors leading to the onset of dementia.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that affects the part of the brain that controls memory, speech and cognitive functions, like problem solving. Over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, making it the most common form of dementia – approximately 60% to 80% of dementia cases are Alzheimer’s disease.
The common age for the onset of Alzheimer’s is 65 years old. Alzheimer’s disease starts with memory issues and as it advances, individuals lose touch with their memories, and the people around them and their environment. Lifestyle factors that trigger Alzheimer’s include: lack of education, midlife high blood pressure, obesity, depression, diabetes, lack of physical activity, smoking, social isolation and – untreated hearing loss.
Early Indicators of Alzheimer’s Disease
Memory loss is one of the first indicators and often loved ones notice issues before the afflicted individual does. Memory loss, in this case, is not as simple as forgetting what you wanted to do when you walk into a room. It is more frightening – like getting into the car and forgetting how to start it, or standing in front of the stove and having no idea how to turn it on or off.
Other indicators include: trouble with planning or solving problems; taking a much longer time to complete or plan tasks; confusion about time and place; losing track of time; and forgetting how they got to a place. People with Alzheimer’s disease may misplace objects or put them in places they don’t belong. An average person that loses something can retrace their steps and try and find the item. People with Alzheimer’s disease struggle with this, which may lead them to feeling suspicious or paranoid. In addition, people with Alzheimer’s disease experience wide mood swings and changes in their personality.
How is Hearing Loss Related to Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia?
Untreated hearing loss has been found to diminish cognitive abilities, which is crucial to maintaining healthy brain function, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Numerous studies here and abroad back up this correlation. Your brain needs to stay active and engaged to fend off dementia, and part of that is the ability to processing sound properly.
With untreated hearing loss, the brain takes on a heavier “cognitive load.” With normal hearing, your brain picks up sound from your environment and processes it. With untreated hearing loss, audio information trickles in with gaps, and your brain struggles to put the puzzle of what you just heard together. In addition to being exhausting, the struggle to put things together takes resources away that could be storing memories or “encoding.” Additionally, with untreated hearing loss, people struggle with conversation and speech recognition. This often leads to withdrawing from friends and loved ones, and activities they once enjoyed. The social isolation that results from untreated hearing loss is a risk factor for developing dementia.
The Positive Effects of Hearing Aids
The good news is your brain starts to re-wire itself correctly when you get hearing aids. Studies show that people who correct their hearing report a better quality of life, including more social interaction, a more positive outlook and even better sleep cycles.
There have been amazing advances in hearing aids, and the professional staff at South Shore Hearing Center stands ready to help. Schedule a hearing test with us and seek treatment for your hearing loss today!