For people over 60, over one-third of the risk of developing dementia may be attributed to hearing loss, recent research suggests.
Could it be that both hearing and memory loss aren’t just side effects of aging, but may influence each other?
According to Johns Hopkins and the National Institute of Aging’s most recently released study: “Although the brain becomes smaller with age, the shrinkage seems to be fast-tracked in older adults with hearing loss. The findings add to a growing list of health consequences associated with hearing loss, including increased risk of dementia, falls, hospitalizations, and diminished physical and mental health overall.”
Hearing loss and Alzheimer’s affect 48 million and five million Americans, respectively. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, making up 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Mild hearing loss doubles dementia risk, and the risk of dementia increases as hearing loss rises.
The two diseases share many symptoms in common, such as feelings of depression, anxiety, and denial. With either health issue, a person might respond inappropriately to social cues, feel isolated, have problems talking, or score lower on mental function tests.
The correlation between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s might be traced back to brain activity. The temporal cortex, occipital cortex, posterior parietal cortex, and brain stem affect our hearing ability; they’re also near the area of the brain that Alzheimer’s first impairs.
If you’re concerned about symptoms of hearing loss or dementia, talk to your doctor about getting tested for hearing loss. Early treatment for hearing loss, such as hearing aids, can address many of the overlapping symptoms between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s.
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