Why You Should Schedule a Hearing Test for World Alzheimer's Month

Why You Should Schedule a Hearing Test for World Alzheimer’s Month

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA Dementia & Alzheimer's Disease, Ear Health

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA
Latest posts by Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA (see all)

Each year we set aside the month of September to celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month. This annual even is an opportunity to commemorate the strides that have been taken to support Alzheimer’s research and the community of people who work to care for Alzheimer’s patients. If you have a person in your family with Alzheimer’s, you know how much recognition is due those who care for these individuals, and one month is certainly not enough to express our gratitude. When it comes to Alzheimer’s support, you might be wondering how hearing loss is related. Why should you consider getting a hearing test as an aspect of Alzheimer’s recognition and care? Recent research has discovered a powerful connection between hearing loss and dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Although the experts now know that these conditions are connected, they continue to work to understand that connection better, including the ways that the body responds to both of these conditions. As we celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month this September, we can advocate for continued research into the connection with hearing loss. Let’s take a look at what we already know, including the way that hearing serves as a bridge between the outside world and the inner world of meaning and understanding.


Communication and Dementia

Although researchers continue to look for a cure for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, they have discovered some of the preventative strategies that seem to help promote cognitive health. Although the brain is not a muscle, these experts often use an analogy to mental “exercise” as a way to keep the brain healthy. When we continue to use the brain to connect ideas, words, and logical relationships, we promote a rich network of neural pathways. These connections make it possible to stay mentally sharp, including maintaining a healthy memory and linguistic functioning. Communication is a great form of mental exercise, providing a context for improvised connections between words and meanings. When a person asks a question or makes a comment, we are provided an opportunity to come up with an appropriate response, and this back-and-forth relationship between words and meanings keeps us mentally sharp. Other exercises can be helpful, as well, including crosswords and other word games.


Dementia and Hearing Loss

With this powerful relationship between communication and cognition in mind, you can imagine how hearing loss can be related to cognitive decline. When a person has hearing loss, communication ability tends to suffer. Rather than hearing a steady stream of words, phrases, and sentences, a person can be confronted with a random jumble of sounds. Those disconnected sounds are a puzzle for the mind, particularly under the time pressure of a conversation. When the sounds fail to form a clear picture of meaning, our brains take on an extreme cognitive load, not only trying to assemble meaning from sound but also guessing at the emotion, expression, and intention of the speaker to come up with a possible meaning. This process can be so overwhelming to the mind that it recruits more of its resources to solving the puzzle of sound and meaning. Whereas the brain of a person without hearing loss can use only the regions devoted to auditory processing, brain imaging shows that those with untreated hearing loss use new parts of the brain that are usually devoted to complex thought and processing.


Preventing Alzheimer’s

Although the research is not conclusive about this relationship between communication, hearing loss, and dementia, some studies have shown that those who get treatment for hearing loss fare better when it comes to the onset and rate of cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s. If you are wondering what you can to do commemorate World Alzheimer’s Month this year, why not take the opportunity to schedule a hearing test? This exam is a good way to establish a baseline for your hearing functioning, and the results are useful going forward. If the test reveals that you have hearing loss, then you will be able to get treatment as soon as possible, potentially reducing your risk of dementia down the line. Your hearing test is a great way to celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month this year!