Not only does January mark the start of a new year, but January is also Alzheimer’s Awareness Month – a month to promote the understanding and awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Because this group of diseases largely affects older adults, it is important to consider the many age-related factors, such as hearing loss, that can affect the overall health of individuals living with dementia.
Major research has been done recently looking at the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. The evidence shows that having an untreated hearing loss can worsen and/or quicken cognitive decline, and that properly fitted hearing aids can help slow the process of cognitive decline. The biggest theories as to why this link exists are that:
- The reduction of stimulation from your auditory system to your brain when a hearing loss is present can lead to negative changes in brain functioning
- The social isolation that results from an untreated hearing loss can lead to issues like stress on interpersonal relationships and reduced alertness
- Hearing aids can increase stimulation to your brain from your hearing system to help slow or prevent changes in brain functioning
It is also important to remember that an untreated hearing loss is often mistaken for dementia in older adults. Confusion, withdrawal, and inability to follow directions are all signs that may be mistaken for dementia, when in reality they are often a result of difficulty hearing. Routine hearing tests are an important part of the care plan for those with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia, as treating a hearing loss can help slow the rate of decline and help improve social interactions.