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November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

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Terri Ellert, HIS

Terri has been in practice as a Board-Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist for the past 11 years and is a co-founder of the Hearing Centers of Arizona.
Terri Ellert, HIS

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November is National Alzheimer's Awareness Month

November is a special month in the year, and many use it to mark the beginning of the “holiday season.” As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us plan a gathering of family and loved ones around a feast. Planning recipes and dishes to serve are just the beginning of this special day. Parties and events may extend through the entire weekend, particularly when family travels to meet up from far-away locales. In Arizona we have many visitors coming to us, but we also have residents leaving to visit families elsewhere in the country and the world. At the heart of these festivities is connecting with our loved ones, near and far.

It is also important to note that November is also National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Here at Hearing Centers of Arizona, the connections between hearing loss and dementia (Alzheimer’s disease makes up 60% to 80% of dementia cases) cannot be ignored. Alzheimer’s disease, along with other forms of dementia, can have devastating effects on one’s cognition, as well as the ability to socialize and communicate. In honor of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, we take a look at the link between hearing loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Studies on Hearing Loss and Dementia

Several researchers, including Dr. Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins University, have pointed out this connection between the experience of hearing loss and the onset of several forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. They find a statistical regularity that associates the two conditions, and they even find that those who have both conditions—dementia and hearing loss—are more likely to experience a quick decline in cognitive ability. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are all too familiar, including loss of memory, misunderstanding of speech, inability to communicate one’s thoughts, disorientation in time, and other emotional conditions such as anxiety, paranoia, depression, frustration, and anger.

The connection, while established in quantitative research, remains somewhat misunderstood in terms of a causal mechanism. How might hearing loss lead to a greater incidence of dementia or a quicker decline for those who have already been diagnosed with the condition? One of the keys lies in the link between hearing and communication. As we know, hearing is essential for verbal communication. When a person with healthy hearing listens to a speaker, the words come to mind in unified wholes: phrases, sentences, and larger units of thought that are immediately meaningful to the listener. However, a person with hearing loss catches only fragments of sound, units that don’t seem to relate with one another. Like learning a new language that doesn’t have a dictionary, those with hearing loss must piece together these fragments of sound into something comprehensible. The process is frustrating and often overwhelming, leading to mental and emotional stress for the listener.

However, the effects of hearing loss do not stop at the point of stress. It is possible that this experience of scrambling to piece together fragmented sound into understandable language might overwhelm the brain in other ways. Trying to form thoughts might become difficult, and cognitive overload can have devastating effects. Researchers wonder if the connection between hearing loss and dementia lies at the nexus of speech understanding and its effects on our social lives. Without the ability to easily understand speech, people are more likely to isolate themselves, rather than struggle through conversation.

 

Social Isolation with Hearing Loss

Social isolation is a leading risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, along with untreated hearing loss. With untreated hearing loss, people tend to withdraw from their friends and loved ones, as it becomes difficult to communicate. For some, asking people to repeat themselves or responding to questions inappropriately creates awkwardness and embarrassment. Rather than putting themselves in these uncomfortable situations, people with untreated hearing loss may think it is better to just avoid the situation altogether. Unfortunately, social isolation has devastating effects, as it reduces the activity that our brains need to stay healthy.

 

Treating Hearing Loss

At the outset of this holiday season, why not take the opportunity to help your family members and loved ones with hearing loss to start down the road to assistance? Enjoy the holidays again with clear communication when reconnecting with loved ones.

Don’t delay to seek assistance! Contact us at the Hearing Centers of Arizona to schedule a hearing exam today.

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