Is it Hearing Loss or Dementia?

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

An underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant in seniors who deal with the symptoms of memory loss and reduced cognitive function. But recent research shows that at least some of that worry may be baseless and that these problems could be the outcome of a much more treatable condition.

According to a study that appeared in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms that actually might be the results of neglected hearing loss are often mistaken as the consequence of Alzheimer’s.

For the Canadian study, researchers carefully evaluated participant’s functional capabilities associated with thought and memory and looked for any links to possible brain disorders. 56 percent of individuals evaluated for cognitive impairment had mild to extreme loss of hearing. Surprisingly, 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 concerned that they may have Alzheimer’s. In some cases, it was a patient’s loved ones who suggested the visit to the doctor because they observed memory lapses or shortened attention span.

The Blurred Line Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

While loss of hearing might not be the first thing an aging adult considers when dealing with potential mental decline, it’s easy to understand how someone can mistake it for Alzheimer’s.

Envision a situation where your best friend asks you for a favor. For instance, they have an upcoming trip and are looking for a ride to the airport. What if you didn’t clearly hear them ask you? Would you try to get them to repeat themselves? Is there any way you would know that you were supposed to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s that kind of thinking that leads hearing professionals to believe some people might be diagnosing themselves inaccurately with Alzheimer’s. Instead, it may very well be a persistent and progressive hearing issue. If you didn’t hear what someone said, then you can’t be expected to remember it.

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

Considering the correlation between aging and an increased chance of hearing loss, it’s no surprise that people who are getting older may be experiencing these issues. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) states that just 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating loss of hearing. Meanwhile, 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 people 75-years or older.

Even though it’s true that progressive loss of hearing is a normal part of aging, people often just tolerate it because they think it’s a part of life. In fact, it takes about 10 years on average for a person to get treatment for hearing loss. Worse yet, less than 25 percent of people will end up purchasing hearing aids even when they really need them.

Could You be Suffering From Hearing Loss?

If you’ve ever really wondered if you were one of the millions of Americans with loss of hearing serious enough that it needs to be dealt with, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I have difficulty hearing consonants?
  • Do I have to crank up the radio or TV in order to hear them.
  • If there is a lot of background sound, do I have an issue understanding words?
  • Is it difficult to engage in conversations in a crowded room so you stay away from social situations?
  • Do I regularly ask others to talk louder or slower?

Science has positively found a link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, however they are not the same. A Johns Hopkins study studied 639 people who reported no cognitive impairment over a 12 to 18 year period observing their progress and aging. The results found that the people who had worse hearing at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop dementia, a general term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and thought.

There is one way you might be able to eliminate any possible confusion between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s, and that is to undergo a hearing test. The current thought in the health care community is that this assessment should be a routine part of your annual physical, particularly for those who are over 65 years old.

Have Any Questions About Hearing Loss?

We can help with a complete hearing evaluation if you think there may be a chance you could be confusing loss of hearing 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.