Alzheimer’s & Hearing Loss: How Are They Related?

June is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Each year, people across the country join together to spread awareness about this degenerative brain disease that influences memory and other cognitive abilities. What you might not know is Alzheimer’s is connected to something that affects 48 million Americans-hearing loss.

We don’t hear with our ears, we actually “hear” with our brains. This means if you have a hearing loss, the connections and areas of the brain that are associated with sound reorganize themselves. Because of that, research says, untreated hearing loss is linked to memory impairment and deteriorating cognitive function. Your hearing health is extremely important for your cognitive health.

A study done at the University of Colorado’s Department of Speech Language and Hearing Science analyzed neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning or experiences) and how it affects the brain as we age. Through their research, they discovered how the brain will rewire itself after a loss – incredible, but very detrimental to cognitive function.

Dr. Arthur Wingfield, a professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University, is also researching this topic. Through his recent study, he discovered that those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss had poor performances on cognitive tests compared to those who did not have hearing loss.

Volunteers with hearing loss repeated cognition tests over a span of six years at Johns Hopkins. Their cognitive abilities actually declined 30%-40% faster than those whose hearing was “normal.”

So, when hearing loss occurs, other areas of your brain, such as the areas assisting sight or touch, will take over the part that normally processes hearing. It’s called “cross-modal cortical reorganization,” which means the brain has a tendency to compensate for sense loss. The brain basically rewires itself after a loss.

Since your brain rewires itself and the parts that are necessary for higher level thinking compensate for the loss of hearing, it takes away from your ability to retain information. This potentially could lead to dementia, as well as a higher risk of Alzheimer’s earlier in life. Even a mild hearing loss can significantly increase your chances of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Treating hearing loss is one way you can take action against Alzheimer’s. Hearing devices have been proven to effectively help with varying levels of hearing loss, from mild to profound. Utilizing this technology not only helps you hear better, but helps your brain work better too.

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