Is it Dementia or Hearing Loss?

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

An underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant among seniors who struggle with the symptoms of memory loss and reduced cognitive function. However, the latest research indicates at least some of that concern might be baseless and that these issues could be the result of a far more treatable affliction.

According to a Canadian Medical Journal Study, the symptoms that actually could be the consequences of neglected hearing loss are often mistaken as the consequence of Alzheimer’s.

For the Canadian study, researchers closely analyzed participant’s functional abilities related to thought and memory and searched for any connections to potential brain disorders. Of those they evaluated for cognitive impairments, 56 percent had hearing loss that ranged from mild to extreme. Unexpectedly, a hearing aid was worn by only 20 percent of those.

A clinical neuropsychologist who served as one of the study’s authors said the findings back up anecdotal evidence they’ve noticed when seeing patients who are worried that they might have Alzheimer’s. In many instances, it was a patient’s loved ones who suggested the visit to the doctor because they noticed memory lapses or shortened attention span.

The Line Between Alzheimer’s And Hearing Loss is Blurred

It’s easy to see how a person could link mental decline with Alzheimer’s because hearing loss is not the first thing that an aging adult would think of.

Having your friend ask you for a favor is a situation that you can be easily imagined. For instance, they have an upcoming trip and need a ride to the airport. What if you didn’t clearly hear them ask you? Would you ask them to repeat themselves? Is there any way you would recognize that you were expected to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s that kind of thinking that leads hearing specialists to believe some people might be diagnosing themselves inaccurately with Alzheimer’s. But it may actually be a hearing problem that’s progressive and ongoing. Simply put, you can’t remember something that you didn’t hear to begin with.

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

Considering the correlation between aging and an increased probability of hearing loss, it’s no surprise that people of a certain age could be experiencing these troubles. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. In the meantime, that number rises dramatically 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 those 75-years or older.

Even though it’s true that gradual hearing loss is a typical part of getting older, people often just accept it because they think it’s just a part of life. In fact, it takes around 10 years on average for someone to get treatment for loss of hearing. Still worse, less than 25 percent of people will actually purchase hearing aids even when they actually need them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever really wondered whether you were one of the millions of Americans with loss of hearing severe enough that it needs to be dealt with, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How often do I have to ask people to speak slower or louder?
  • Is hearing consonants challenging?
  • Do I have to crank up the radio or TV in order to hear them.
  • Is it difficult to have conversations in a crowded room so you avoid social situations?
  • Do I have issues understanding words if there’s a lot of background sound?

It’s important to point out that while loss of hearing can be commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, science has proven a definitive link between the two conditions. A Johns Hopkins study followed 639 individuals who noted no cognitive impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The study found that the worse the loss of hearing at the beginning of the study, the more likely the person was to develop symptoms of dementia which is a term that refers to diminished memory and thought.

Getting a hearing evaluating is one way you can prevent any misunderstandings between Alzheimer’s and loss of hearing. This should be a part of your normal annual physical particularly if you are over 65.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

We can help with a complete hearing assessment if you think there is a chance you may be confusing hearing loss with Alzheimer’s. Make an appointment for a hearing test right away.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.