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September is World Alzheimer’s Month. Launched in 2012, this global campaign raises awareness about dementia – a group of medical conditions that progressively deteriorates cognitive functions. 50 million people worldwide live with dementia, a number projected to rapidly increase. Alzheimer’s is the most common type, impacting up to 90% of people who experience dementia. Treating hearing loss can be an effective intervention that prevents or delays its development so September is a great opportunity to prioritize your hearing health!
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological condition that gradually reduces cognitive functions related to memory, thinking, decision making, and learning. It often starts with subtle memory loss and can evolve into an inability to recognize loved ones, engage in conversation, complete tasks etc. This can lead to major personality and behavioral changes that can be challenging to experience. People with late stage Alzheimer’s may require care and assistance with daily living.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly 6 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s. This is expected to nearly triple by 2060, reaching 14 million people. Because exact causes of Alzheimer’s remain unknown, there is significant emphasis placed on identifying and mitigating risk factors. Studies show that the brain can experience changes years prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. This is a potential window where interventions can be made to prevent or delay cognitive decline. Extensive research shows that treating hearing loss can mitigate cognitive decline and the development of conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Nearly 48 million people have some degree of hearing loss in the U.S. The third most common chronic medical condition that people navigate, hearing loss is a pervasive health issue. Several factors can impair hearing including: environmental exposure to loud noise, aging, genetics, head/neck injuries, and existing medical conditions. Hearing loss often occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged. These hair cells help translate soundwaves into electrical signals which then travel to the brain to be further processed, enabling us to understand what we hear. When hair cells are damaged (loss of sensitivity, and/or die), this leads to permanent hearing loss.
Hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to perceive and process sound. This produces a range of symptoms that strain hearing and communication, impacting all facets of life. Untreated hearing loss often takes a toll on relationships, social life, and wellness. It also increases health risks – depression, accidental injuries, and cognitive decline. Untreated hearing loss can impact the brain in ways that affect performance and optimal functioning.
Studies show that hearing loss can decrease brain activity in the areas responsible for processing sound. This can lead to recognition and changing of neural networks which impacts cognitive function. Additionally, social withdrawal can contribute to cognitive decline. Social withdrawal is a major outcome of hearing loss and often looks like avoiding social settings, participating in activities, and spending time with others. This reduces the engagement and stimul for the brain which can also weaken functioning.
Treating Hearing Loss Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s
Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat hearing loss that can change health trajectory. Seeking treatment starts with the simple step of scheduling an appointment for a hearing test. Conducted by a hearing healthcare specialist, likely an audiologist, hearing tests involve a painless process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any impairment and the degree of hearing loss you are experiencing. Once your hearing needs are established, your hearing healthcare provider is able to recommend treatment options to effectively meet those needs.
The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids. These are small, electronic devices that are designed to absorb and process sound. Providing substantial support to the ears and brain, these savvy devices maximize hearing and offer numerous benefits that are life-changing. This includes strengthening communication, enhancing relationships, enriching social life, and improving health. Hearing aids improve brain health by strengthening cognitive functions. This can delay or prevent cognitive decline and related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Participate in World Alzheimer’s Month by prioritizing your hearing health and scheduling your appointment today!