Is it Dementia or Hearing Loss?

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

In seniors who have memory loss or diminished cognitive function, the underlying fear of Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant. But the latest research indicates at least some of that concern might be unjustified and that these issues may be the outcome of a far more treatable condition.

According to a study published in a Canadian medical journal, the symptoms that actually might be the consequences of untreated hearing loss are sometimes mistaken as the consequence of Alzheimer’s.

In the Canadian study, researchers searched for connections to brain disorders by closely evaluating participants functional capabilities pertaining to thought and memory. Out of those they evaluated for cognitive impairments, 56 percent had loss of hearing that spanned from mild to extreme. Astonishingly, a hearing aid was worn by only 20 percent of those.

A clinical neuropsychologist who was one of the study’s authors said the findings support anecdotal evidence they’ve observed when examining patients who are worried that they may have Alzheimer’s. In many instances, the reason for that patient’s visit to the doctor was due to their shortened attention span or a failure to remember things their partner told them and in many cases, it was the patient’s loved one who suggested an appointment with a doctor.

The Blurred Line Between Hearing Loss And Alzheimer’s

It’s easy to understand how a person could associate cognitive decline with Alzheimer’s because loss of hearing is not the first thing that an older adult would consider.

Imagine a situation where your friend asks you for a favor. As an example, let’s say they are looking for a ride to the airport for an upcoming trip. What if you couldn’t clearly hear them ask? Would you try to have them to repeat themselves? Is there any way you would know that you were expected to drive them if you didn’t hear them the second time?

It’s likely that some people may have misdiagnosed themselves with Alzheimer’s because of this kind of thinking according to hearing professionals. But it may actually be a hearing issue that’s progressive and persistent. Put simply, you can’t remember something that you didn’t hear to begin with.

There Are Ways Gradual Hearing Loss, Which is a Normal Condition, Can be Treated

Considering the link between advanced age with an increased likelihood of hearing loss, it’s no surprise that people of a certain age could be having these troubles. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that only 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have debilitating hearing loss. Meanwhile, that number goes up considerably 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.

While it’s true that gradual hearing loss is a normal trait of aging, people commonly just accept it because they think it’s just a part of life. In fact, the average time it takes for a person to seek treatment for loss of hearing is around 10 years. Worse, less than 25 percent of people who need hearing aids will ultimately buy them.

Do You Have Hearing Loss?

If you’ve thought about whether you have hearing loss extreme enough to need to be addressed like millions of other Americans, there are a number of revealing signs you should consider. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do I regularly need to raise the volume on the radio or television to hear?
  • Do I have difficulty hearing consonants?
  • Do I have a problem understanding words if there’s a lot of background sound?
  • How often do I have to ask people to speak louder or slower?
  • Do I stay away from social situations because having a conversation in a loud room is difficult?

Science has positively found a connection between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, however they’re not the same. A Johns Hopkins study tested the mental capabilities of 639 people who reported no cognitive impairments, then followed their progress and aging for 12 to 18 years. The results discovered that the participants who had worse hearing at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop dementia, an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of diminished memory and cognitive function.

There is one way you might be able to eliminate any possible misunderstandings between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, and that is to undergo a hearing screening. The current thought among the health care community is that this assessment should be a routine part of your annual physical, especially for people who are over 65.

Have Questions About Hearing Loss?

If you think you might be confusing loss of hearing with Alzheimer’s, we can help you with a complete hearing assessment. Make an appointment for a hearing exam 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.