Hearing Loss and Cognition

My staff and I recently attended a conference sponsored by Alzheimer’s Community Care. We were fortunate enough to sit in on a presentation by Dr. David Watson talking about the mechanics of Alzheimer’s, past treatments and the current research investigating ways to both slow down Alzheimer’s and possible preventative medications. Unsurprisingly, Palm Beach County is the foremost research location in the entire country. Dr. Watson has been involved in over 400 research studies and is on the cutting edge of current and future treatments. He established the Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment Center in 2012.

Another featured speaker was Dr. Lyndsey Bride, an Audiologist out of Sarasota, FL. She spoke about the link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s or dementia. She presented some updated statistics:
• Over 50 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss
•From 2000 to 2015, the number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled
• 1/3 of Americans between ages 65 and 74 have hearing loss
• Half of people over age 75 have hearing loss
• Hearing loss is the 2nd most prevalent chronic health condition globally

We know that hearing loss and early dementia symptoms can mimic each other. Often, when we remedy the hearing loss with hearing aids, the dementia “goes away” – this does not mean the person was cured, it means that there was no real cognitive decline but the problem was untreated hearing loss.

An old saying is “we hear with our brains, not our ears” and recent research reinforces that concept. Dr. Bride discussed a recent study of people with untreated hearing loss and cognitive performance. During the study, one of the participants experienced a sudden hearing loss which worsened the existing hearing loss. They had already conducted functional MRI’s and EEG’s on this patient so they had a baseline. After only 3 months of this sudden, severe hearing loss, the patient’s brain showed rewiring of the brain to compensate for the hearing loss. The same person was then fit with hearing aids and only 30 days later the brain had re-organized again so that only the part of the brain needed for hearing was being stimulated; thus, the cognitive load was lessened and the patient had to put out less effort to hear well.

Dr. Bride summarized much of the recent research:
Loss of brain activity = loss of brain tissue: people with hearing loss lost an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue every year as compared to those with normal hearing
As the brain shrinks, the person has more difficulty processing sounds and speech
Untreated hearing loss definitively causes brain shrinkage, even for those people with mild hearing loss

There’s some good news!
After 18 months of wearing properly fit hearing aids, patients reported improved speech perception in quiet and perceived quality of life was also improved
Cognitive test batteries showed no significant decline and overall, executive function of the brain were significantly improved
Clinically and statistically significant improvements in cognition were seen
While hearing aids to not “cure” Alzheimer’s or dementia, they should be considered on the frontline of defense against worsening of the disease

Dr. Jonathan Peelie, PhD, Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine said:

“As hearing ability declines with age, interventions such as hearing aids should be considered not only to improve hearing but to preserve the brain,”

The takeaway from the research to date is not to scare people into buying hearing aids but to show that there is a connection between cognitive performance and hearing loss. We now have the research to back up what we’ve known anecdotally: hearing aids are good for your brain.

If you are concerned about Alzheimer’s, one of your first steps should be to have a hearing test. Your memory issues might not be Alzheimer’s or dementia, it might be hearing loss.

For more information about the Alzheimer’s Community Care, www.alzcare.org or call 561-683-2700. They also have a (non-medical) 24-hour crisis hotline at 800-394-1771.

As always, for a medical emergency, call 911.

Audiology with a Heart

(561) 366-7219
2324 S. Congress Ave.
Suite 2G Palm Springs, FL 33406

For more information, please visit their website: https://www.alzheimers-risk-test.com/alzheimers-risk-test?loc=about or call 1 908 460 8443

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