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Alzheimer’s is a condition directly affecting 50 million people worldwide, yet it tends to remain out of public view. Many of those with advanced Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia require full-time care, either in a residential facility or in the form of 24-hour home assistance. Although those with advanced Alzheimer’s may not be present in many social settings, their loved ones and caretakers are all around us.
If you begin to ask, you will find that a remarkable number of people have been touched by Alzheimer’s, often requiring them to devote themselves to caregiving and to experience the heartbreak of cognitive dysfunction. Rather that leaving these experiences unknown, September has been named World Alzheimer’s Month to raise awareness about the condition and to promote greater support and funding for research into its causes, prevention, treatment, and even a cure.
At House of Hearing, we are interested in the connection between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk for dementia. Alzheimer’s disease happens to be the most common form of dementia.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
Researchers have already made some important discoveries that help us understand how the condition works in the human mind and in social interaction. Although they have not been able to describe the precise cause of Alzheimer’s, recent studies have unearthed some of the connections with other conditions, including one that might come as a surprise: hearing loss.
Dr. Frank Lin and his team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that those with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia than their counterparts who have full hearing ability. Furthermore, those with hearing loss tend to have a faster decline in cognitive functioning once they have been diagnosed with dementia. With these findings in place, other researchers have become curious how the connection works. Is there a part of the brain that connects the two conditions? Is there a chemical or neurological link between the auditory nervous system and the functions of cognition?
On the contrary, the link between hearing loss and dementia seems to have to do with the act of hearing in the world rather than the internal features of the brain. French epidemiologist and biostatistician Hèléne Amieva conducted a 25-year longitudinal study of people with and without hearing loss. Those who wore hearing aids, making it possible to converse with others and interact normally, turned out to be no more likely to develop dementia than those who had no hearing loss at all. This remarkable finding points new research in many possible directions.
The Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss on Communication
We can now ask how hearing ability, particularly in conversations, might have a snowball effect into dementia. Some speculate that the struggle to hear in conversation leads to an unbearable cognitive load. Rather than hearing complete sentences, ideas, and phrases, a person with hearing loss encounters random fragments of sound. These sounds present themselves to the mind as a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces. The brain has to scramble to put together the arbitrary chunks of sound into something resembling a meaningful thought. When the brain has to perform this task again and again in conversation, researchers wonder if it might carry over into other areas of the brain, including those that can develop dementia.
Research like this not only has an intrinsic interest in understanding the human brain, but it can also have a powerful effect on the lives of those who will develop Alzheimer’s and the people who love and care for them. If we were able to determine the complex web of causes of Alzheimer’s, then prevention, treatment, and a cure would be right around the corner. World Alzheimer’s Month is the perfect opportunity to advocate for more support, and that support can include further research into the connection with hearing loss.
House of Hearing
It is also the perfect month to seek out treatment for hearing loss in yourself or someone you love. With recent findings about the powerful effect of hearing aids, the time is now to get assistance with hearing.
By scheduling a hearing exam and a consultation with us at House of Hearing, you can get the information you need to treat the symptoms of hearing loss, possibly leading to cognitive protections that were formerly unimaginable.
Talk to your loved ones today about seeking treatment for hearing loss, if they suspect that they may be hard of hearing. The assistance they receive might have lasting cognitive benefits!