September is World Alzheimer’s Month! A global campaign, this year’s theme is Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer’s. Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses numerous medical conditions that are characterized by cognitive decline. 50 million people live with dementia worldwide, a figure that is projected to rapidly rise. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s, accounting for up to 70% of all cases of dementia according to the World Health Organization. Treating hearing loss can decrease the risk of experiencing cognitive decline and developing conditions including Alzheimer’s!
World Alzheimer’s Month
Alzheimer’s is a condition that progressively reduces cognitive functions including decision making, memory, communication, and learning. Early stages of Alzheimer’s typically include forgetfulness and losing track of time. This gradually escalates into more severe forms of memory loss, difficulty completing tasks, and navigating conversations. People experiencing later stages of Alzheimer’s may require assistance with daily living. Alzheimer’s can take a toll on one’s personality and behavior, creating various challenges for the individual as well as loved ones.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6.2 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s. This is expected to increase to 12.7 million people by 2050. Because specific causes for Alzheimer’s remain unknown, there is significant emphasis on identifying and mitigating risk factors. Growing research examines what can contribute to cognitive decline and ways to effectively intervene. Various studies highlight a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline and reveal that treating hearing loss is beneficial for brain health!
Link Between Hearing Loss & Alzheimer’s
Extensive research shows that hearing loss happens in both the ears and brain. Hearing loss’s impact on the brain can contribute to cognitive decline. Two significant studies that highlight this includes:
- University of Colorado Study: researchers interested in studying how hearing loss impacts the brain, took EEG (electroencephalographic) recordings of the brain activity of people with various degrees of hearing loss. EEG testing records brain activity as it responds to stimuli. Researchers found that compared to people without hearing loss, participants with hearing loss experienced:
- A decrease in activity in the hearing portions of the brain
- Brain reorganization in areas responsible for processing visual patterns
These effects impact neural networks and pathways which can weaken these specific areas, contributing to declining cognitive function.
- Harvard Medical School Study: researchers collected and analyzed data that included self-reported hearing loss information as well as data on cognitive decline. The data spanned 8 years and included 10,000 people. Key findings include that the risk of cognitive decline for people with hearing loss was:
- 30% higher among people with mild hearing loss
- 42% to 54% higher among people with moderate to severe hearing loss
These significant statistics not only show a correlation, but also reveal that the degree of impairment can substantially increase the risk of cognitive decline.
Hearing Aids Reduce Risk of Cognitive Decline
There are effective ways that hearing loss is treated which alleviates symptoms and maximizes hearing capacity. The most common treatment is hearing aids, electronic devices that detect, amplify, and process sound. This provides significant support for the ears and brain, making it easier to hear and understand speech as well as sound. Hearing aids offer countless benefits: enhanced communication, improves relationships, and enriches social life. Additionally, research shows that hearing aids strengthen cognitive functions, reducing the risk of cognitive decline. This includes the following studies:
- University of Melbourne Study: researchers studied how hearing aids impact the brain by examining the hearing and cognitive capacities of nearly 100 people, ages 62-82, before and after the use of hearing aids. Researchers found that:
- “97% of participants showed either clinically significant improvement or stability in executive function (mental ability to plan, organize information and initiate tasks)”.
- Study Published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society: researchers analyzed data on cognitive functions of people who wear hearing aids. Based on results from memory tests conducted on over 2,000 people, researchers found that hearing aids increased test scores. This study concluded that hearing aids can be an effective intervention that delays or prevents cognitive decline.
You can participate in World Alzheimer’s Month by scheduling an appointment for a hearing test! Taking this simple step prioritizes your hearing health and offers life-changing benefits that improve brain health as well as quality of life!