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Cognitive Difficulties and Untreated Hearing Loss

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September is World Alzheimer’s month and it seems only fitting we talk about untreated hearing loss. Why? Because untreated hearing loss has been linked to the onset of dementia, the most common form of Alzheimer’s. You shouldn’t delay getting a hearing evaluation at Hearing Consultants.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a brain condition that affects parts of the brain that control cognitive processes – thought, memory and language. It is not a normal part of aging. It shrinks parts of the brain cells. Dementia is a form of Alzheimer’s and 60 to 80% of those with dementia have it because of Alzheimer’s. There is no cure, but there are certain things you can do to combat Alzheimer’s and one of them is maintaining good hearing. Numerous studies done here, in Europe and in Asia have discovered what is likely a link between untreated hearing loss and the on set of dementia.

The most common symptoms of dementia are memory loss and the loss of cognitive abilities which in turn leads to withdrawing from society and work.
Forgetfulness should not be confused with dementia although memory loss is one of the first signs. Forgetfulness is misplacing your keys because you took them out of your pocket and set them down. Memory loss is walking into the park where you’ve walked hundreds of times before and not remembering which path to take to get out.

Early stage indicators

Alzheimer’s typically starts to manifest around 65 or so – but can show up earlier. Hearing loss and Alzheimer’s advance slowly, but untreated hearing loss increases the odds of dementia and, unlike dementia – it can be treated!
Some early indicators of Alzheimer’s include: getting lost in familiar places, trouble finding common words to describe common objects, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating the same question in conversations in a very short span of time, taking longer to complete every day tasks, displaying poor judgement, losing things or misplacing them in odd places, paranoia and distrust of family and caregivers and mood and personality changes.

It’s use it or lose it

We’ve all seen that information on how to keep your brain sharp to avoid Alzheimer’s and that is, actually, one way, there’s also exercise, eating healthy, getting high blood pressure treated, obesity is a factor and untreated hearing loss.

The idea is that processing sounds correctly sends auditory signals to the brain. It keeps that part of the brain active and engaged. Over time, if you don’t treat hearing loss, those parts of the brain that process sound start to go dark – literally. Brain imaging of those with untreated hearing loss and dementia show portions of the brain are dark or not being used.

Hearing devices, luckily, fire those parts of the brain back up. Those with dementia and untreated hearing loss do show improvement in cognitive abilities with the addition of hearing aids, studies show.

Nearly 48 million Americans have hearing loss and unfortunately, statistics show many wait between three and five years to get hearing loss treated. During that time, the brain strains to “hear” and process sounds and conversations. This can result in a sort of cognitive overload which may hasten dementia. Scientists explain it as diverting brain power that should be used for cognitive purposes to trying to decipher and process sounds.

Isolation also a factor

Untreated hearing loss can cause you to withdraw from societal interaction. You may not want people to notice you can’t hear things or process a conversation. These interactions also help keep the brain sharp. There are some indications that depression associated with societal withdrawal because of untreated hearing loss can also increase the chances of dementia.

Hearing devices can help

The first step towards hearing health is scheduling a hearing evaluation at Hearing Consultants. A painless test will determine if you have hearing loss and the staff professionals can then set you on a course for better hearing health. Hearing aids these days range from oh-so-tiny devices that fit discreetly inside your ear to over the ear devices tinted to match your skin or hair. Most people can’t tell if it’s a hearing aid or a Bluetooth device! It’s not worth delaying even a day – call for a test today.