It’s long been thought of as a fact that as one ages, hearing loss and memory loss are bound to follow. However, recent research shows a connection between Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. Among people over 60, hearing loss accounted for over one-third of the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Many of the symptoms associated with early Alzheimer’s disease are the same as those associated with hearing loss. For example, some of these symptoms include:
- Increased distrust of others’ motives
- Problems talking and understanding what is being said
- Inappropriate responses to social cues
- Feelings of isolation
- Lower scores on mental function tests
- Defensiveness or negativity
The connection between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss may be found in the brain. When we hear, sound travels into the ear and stimulates small hair cells, which then vibrate and trigger electrical impulses traveling to the brain stem and then the temporal lobe. The temporal cortex, occipital cortex, posterior parietal cortex, and brain stem all affect our ability to hear a sound and perceive its location.
Hearing loss affects brain activity as well. The small hair cells can disappear as a result of age or continued exposure to loud noises. Without these small hair cells, it’s harder to capture sound, and the less sound you hear, the less active your nerves are, which in turn makes your brain less active. An inactive brain can shrink and can lead to nerve cell death and tissue loss throughout the brain.
Mild hearing loss doubles the risk of dementia, and the risk of dementia appears to rise as hearing declines. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, talk to your doctor about getting tested for early hearing loss. Many studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients show an improved ability to communicate and understand after being fitted with hearing aids.