When we start to become forgetful, we may begin to worry that it’s a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. But in some cases, memory loss is an indication of hearing loss. There have been several studies that have revealed a link between hearing loss and memory loss. It isn’t surprising that if a person is experiencing memory loss and forgetfulness, they probably should be getting their hearing checked as a means of preventing further memory loss.
The study found that about 56 percent of participants who were evaluated for memory loss and thinking problems actually had some form of hearing loss. And yet, only 20 percent of these individuals were using hearing aids. Of the group, nearly a quarter did not show signs of hearing loss except memory problems.
One of the study’s authors Dr. Susan Vandermorris explained, “We commonly see clients who are worried about Alzheimer’s disease because their partner complains that they don’t seem to pay attention, they don’t seem to listen or they don’t remember what is said to them. Sometimes addressing hearing loss may mitigate or fix what looks like a memory issue. An individual isn’t going to remember something said to them if they didn’t hear it properly.”
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic problem among adults. Fifty percent of those over the age of 65 experience hearing loss, and this number jumps to 90 percent for adults over 80.
Dr. Vandermorris stressed that hearing issues are often not discussed in neuropsychology clinics, but hearing can play a significant role in memory and thinking abilities. “Some people may be reluctant to address hearing loss, but they need to be aware that hearing health is brain health and help is available,” she added.
The study looked at 20 participants who were receiving a neuropsychological assessment. The participants completed the hearing and cognitive examinations.
Another author, Marilyn Reed, added, “Since hearing loss has been identified as a leading, potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia, treating it may be one way people can reduce the risk. People who can’t hear well have difficulty communicating and tend to withdraw from social activities as a way of coping. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, which can impact cognitive, physical and mental health.”
Lead author Dr. Kate Dupuis said, “We are starting to learn more about the important role hearing plays in the brain health of our aging population. To provide the best care to our older clients, it is imperative that neuropsychologists and hearing care professionals work together to address the common occurrence of both cognitive and hearing loss in individuals.”
Next steps from the study would be to optimize screening strategies for hearing loss in memory assessments and creating better collaborations between hearing and memory clinics.