November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. According to the Alzheimer’s Association and the Better Hearing Institute, an estimated 5 million American’s are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Researchers have long known of the connection between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease, and that people with dementia have higher rates of hearing loss, but lower levels of hearing health care intervention. Often times hearing loss is not addressed because of the complicated health history of someone who is living with Alzheimer’s disease, or other form of dementia.
But, did you know the symptoms of untreated hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease are very similar? Symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and hearing loss include: depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation; reduced language comprehension and/or language ability; impaired memory or reduced cognitive input; inappropriate psychosocial responses; reduced mental scores on testing; denial, defensiveness, negativity and distrust and suspicion that others are talking about them.
There is strong evidence that hearing impairment can make cognitive dysfunction worse. If you can’t hear the words, your brain won’t remember the words, and those words start to become confusing. When an individual has either Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and hearing loss, it can make managing the dementia more difficult than it might be if the hearing loss was addressed. When a person with existing Alzheimer’s disease is fit with hearing aids, it can become a struggle to get them to wear the hearing aids altogether because they just may not remember to put them in every day.
If you or a loved one suspects memory loss, or has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a thorough hearing examination should be scheduled. Since untreated hearing loss can have the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to rule out hearing loss that can be addressed with amplification versus a true cognitive disorder. Working closely with your primary care physician, an audiologist or hearing health care provider can help you put the pieces of the puzzle together and get you on the right path.