In the case of seniors who have both hearing loss and Alzheimer's, managing both conditions can be a challenge for caretakers. According to the Alzheimer's Society, people with hearing loss are more likely to develop memory issues and other signs of Alzheimer's.
Hearing Loss Affects the Aging Process
A 2017 article in Practical Neurology noted that significant hearing loss affects 40 percent of those over the age of 65 and 80 percent over the age of 85, and that not only does hearing loss have links to cognitive impairment and dementia, but hearing loss that is greater than 25dB has been shown to have an effect on cognitive deterioration that is roughly equal to that expected from seven years of aging.
The article also pointed out that central auditory processing disorders affect 23 percent to 76 percent of older adults. When central auditory processing is decreased, poor cognitive performance and decline has been seen in small study samples. Tests of central auditory performance, such as differentiating speech from background noise, showed decreased performance when completed by seniors with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Hearing Loss and Declining Cognitive Ability are Linked
One study examined central processing disorder along with peripheral hearing and multiple cognitive skills in 120 adults around the age of 70. The results showed that speech understanding in a noisy environment was significantly related to a decline in cognitive and central auditory processing abilities. Other large scale studies suggested that peripheral hearing loss could also be independently associated with poor cognitive function, primarily affecting the ability to access memories, process information and complete simple daily tasks.
The protocol for a study published in 2018 researched the fact that sensorineural hearing loss is the most common sensory deficit among older adults, with psychosocial consequences ranging from difficulty in understanding speech to depression, social isolation, and age-related cognitive degradation. The protocol noted that hearing aids have been proven as successful interventions for hearing loss in adults with onset of cognitive decline (such as Alzheimer's patients), especially when combined with some form of auditory training. Such listening activities were shown to provide long term cognitive performance improvements.
Alzheimer's Patients Could Benefit From Hearing Aids
The above study encourages adults with hearing loss to adopt the use of hearing aids and also take part in individualized face-to-face auditory training to improve cognitive function, minimize depressive symptoms, and enhance social interaction. However, according to the Practical Neurology article, many seniors with Alzheimer's are skipped over when it comes to hearing tests, and aren't given access to hearing aids. A 2016 article published by Columbia Medical Center noted that while half of adults over age 75 have hearing loss, most do not use a hearing aid device. Elders with hearing loss have been shown to be at higher risk for falls, accidents, social isolation, and onset of dementia than those without hearing loss.
Caregivers should be aware of the benefits of hearing aids and advocate for hearing tests and hearing aid supplements as well as any auditory lessons that could benefit their family member with Alzheimer's, as the advantages of better hearing in their loved ones could be immense - improved cognitive function and communication abilities can make it easier to manage each days tasks and interactions. Alzheimer's patients often suffer from forgetfulness, confusion, inability to complete daily activities, trouble remembering faces, times, and places, anxiety or aggression, and more. When hearing loss is added to the mix, caregivers can struggle with behaviors that are unfamiliar, like resistance to reasonable requests and anger over misunderstandings. Using hearing aids can improve the executive function, social interaction, and cognitive abilities, and provide a positive long term effect for caregivers and their loved ones.
In the case of seniors who have both hearing loss and Alzheimer’s, managing both conditions can be a challenge for caretakers.