Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
If you’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss but haven’t yet done anything about it, you might want to seek treatment soon. New research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison could give you some needed motivation for doing so: left untreated, mild to moderate hearing loss contributes to cognitive decline and may be an early indicator for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers presented their findings at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, the largest international meeting dedicated to dementia science.
Alzheimer’s disease and long-term research
Alzheimer’s disease, defined as progressive mental deterioration, is the most common cause of premature senility and typically occurs in middle or old age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in 10 people in the U.S. over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s dementia, and it is the sixth largest killer in America. In fact, deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s have increased by 89 percent since 2000. The UW-Madison researchers studied correlations between cognitive decline and hearing loss as well as highly stressful life events, changes in everyday speech and residential location.
As part of the study, researchers analyzed data from five years of clinical tests to determine if there was any correlation between hearing loss and mild cognitive impairment. The data came from an ongoing study of more than 1500 middle-aged participants in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP), many of whom are adult children of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Participants in the study, which began in 2001, are tested regularly on cognitive skills and also undergo brain scans, cerebral spinal fluid draws and other testing.
One in 10 Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s dementia, the country’s sixth largest killer.
The study on hearing loss and cognitive decline, led by Taylor Field, a doctoral student in the Neuroscience Training Program, and her group in the Binaural Hearing and Speech Lab, found that volunteers who self-reported being diagnosed with hearing loss at the beginning of the WRAP study were more likely to do poorly on future cognitive testing and more than twice as likely to be characterized as having mild cognitive impairment. As a result, researchers suggested hearing loss could be an indicator of increasing cognitive decline in older adults and that identification and treatment of hearing loss could potentially minimize the risk.
Early detection is key
Most hearing healthcare professionals agree early identification of and treatment for hearing loss is key to minimizing risks of developing a variety of other emotional and physical conditions, including dementia, depression and social isolation.
A 2015 study by French researcher Isabelle Mosnier of Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris found that cochlear implants not only helped with hearing loss of elderly patients (65-85) in the study, but also improved their memory and thinking.
Other studies show hearing aid users enjoy many health benefits, including an improved quality of life, including emotional health, mental ability, physical health, relationships at home and at work, social life and a sense of independence.
While many people associate getting older with losing mental faculties, this outcome is not a forgone conclusion. If being able to communicate with family and friends isn’t reason enough to want better hearing, consider how it can help you stay mentally sharp well into old age. If you suspect your hearing health has deteriorated, don’t wait. Make an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional from our extensive directory of clinics.