This month, Alzheimer’s Disease International sponsors a month of awareness and care to help promote education, research and healthcare for people affected by dementia. In the U.S. it is estimated that 5.7 million people struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, which affects memory and cognition and severely limits a person’s ability to navigate daily life. World Alzheimer’s Month seeks to raise awareness and connects people to research that could help find a cure for dementia.
Dementia is often a devastating disease for those affected by it and their loved ones. Symptoms include memory problems, disorientation, problems with everyday tasks and handling money, confusion and poor judgement as well as personality changes. While there is no known singular cause for Alzheimer’s disease, it has been widely linked to cognitive disruptions produced by other health conditions. Challenges to mental and physical health, such as depression, isolation, obesity, lack of exercise and lack of education all increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease onset. Diabetes, hypertension and smoking have proven themselves to also be contributing factors to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Perhaps the most unexpected health problem linked to dementia is hearing loss. Hearing loss is neither a small nor benign health concern. Our hearing health is tethered to our overall quality of life. Hearing loss can encourage other Alzheimer’s risks like depression and isolation, though it also contributes to cognitive health issues all on its own.
Permanent Hearing Loss
Hearing loss fundamentally alters how we engage with the world. Our brain is constantly working to process sound wave signals sent by our inner ears. With normal hearing, this process is fluid and nearly instantaneous. When our hearing is compromised however, the brunt of hearing falls upon the brain which works overtime to parse meaning from incoming signals.
For most people, permanent hearing loss develops gradually and is rooted in the functioning of the inner ear. In the ears’ cochlea, many tiny “hair cells” act as finely-tuned sensors, detecting the arrival of incoming sound waves and transmitting these signals to the brain as a small, electric pulse. When hair cells are damaged they do not have the ability to regenerate or repair themselves and no new cell grows to take a dead hair cell’s place. This means that a damaged hair cells permanently eliminates some of our ability to hear.
As more and more hair cells are decommissioned, hearing loss increases. Significant hearing loss occurs when so many hair cells have been injured, our ears can no longer effectively detect a full palette of sound. With hearing loss, the inner ear delivers incomplete sound information to the brain via the auditory nerve.
The Cognitive Connection
The brain is where impaired hearing can have a dramatic effect on many areas of our health. With fragmented sound signals coming into the auditory cortex, and the brain is constantly having to cobble together meaning and response from fragmented information. Comprehending sound is turned into a challenging puzzle, and a puzzle without all the pieces, at that.
To succeed in understanding speech and sound, the brain requires extra resources committed to the task. Attention and focus are drawn away from other more diversified cognitive functions and reorganized into assisting with hearing. Cognitive resources are drained and other areas of cognitive functioning suffer alongside our hearing.
This brain strain is what researchers link to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The dramatic cognitive re-organizing and disruption has been shown to make the onset of dementia around 1.3 times more likely than in populations without hearing loss.
The bad news is, the vast majority of hearing loss is permanent. The great news is, there is effective treatment for hearing loss. Using hearing aids as assistive devices can restore much of the missing range and clarity of healthy hearing. Through using hearing aids, the spectrum of sound can largely be restored in your everyday life.
Even better, using hearing aids to treat hearing loss has been shown to reduce the cognitive burden created by hearing loss. This means that treating hearing loss can relieve some of the factors that tether hearing loss to Alzheimer’s risk. Your hearing is an integral part of your total health, and taking care of your hearing creates a healthier overall you. If you are looking for help with hearing challenges, turn to Exceptional Hearing Care. With expert understanding and customer-driven care, we can help you find the perfect hearing solution for a healthier, fuller life.