Dementia, Memory Loss, and Hearing Loss
Various studies confirm what many doctors and audiologists have suspected for a long time — there's an undeniable association between dementia and hearing loss or hearing loss and cognitive decline. And, initial issues, like inability to concentrate and memory loss, can become worse over time. When left untreated, this might eventually cause dementia and other serious cognitive impairment issues.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia isn't one disease; it's a term used for covering a whole range of specific health conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. Conditions grouped under the "dementia" general term are caused by irregular changes in the brain, which trigger a decline in cognitive abilities (thinking skills), serious enough to impair everyday independence and life function. They also impact feelings, behavior, and relationships.
Around 60% to 80% of all dementia cases are Alzheimer's disease. Dementia's next most common cause is vascular dementia, which develops due to blood vessel blocks and microscopic brain bleeding. Individuals experiencing the brain changes of various forms of dementia together have mixed dementia. Various other conditions can lead to dementia symptoms, including reversible types, like vitamin deficiencies and thyroid issues.
Signs of Dementia
Since dementia is a general term, the symptoms it causes can widely vary from one person to the next. Individuals with dementia have issues with:
- Judgment, reasoning, and problem-solving
- Visual perception that goes beyond standard age-related vision changes
Potential signs pointing to dementia might include:
- Using unusual words for referring to familiar objects
- Becoming lost in a familiar neighborhood
- Forgetting old memories
- Forgetting a close friend or family member's name
- Not being able to independently finish tasks
Causes of Dementia
Dementia is caused by brain cell damage. The damage interferes with the brain cells' ability to communicate with one another. When they can't communicate properly, things are affected such as:
Treatment of Dementia
Dementia treatment will depend on what's causing it. Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative dementias have no cure, but there are medicines that could manage symptoms like behavior changes or anxiety and help protect the brain.
It can also help to lead a healthy lifestyle which includes eating healthy, exercising regularly, and maintaining social contacts which will decrease your chance of developing chronic disease.
What Is Memory Loss?
Memory loss (amnesia) is the inability to recall past events or an irregular degree of forgetfulness. Depending on what's causing it, memory loss might have either a gradual or sudden onset and it can be temporary or permanent.
Signs of Memory Loss
Memory loss might be limited to not being able to recall distant past events, recent events, or a combination of both. While the regular aging process could lead to difficulty in learning and retaining new information, regular aging itself isn't a cause of substantial memory loss unless there's a disease accompanying it that's responsible for the memory loss.
A rare but temporary total loss of memory (transient global amnesia) can occur. You might experience anterograde amnesia, where you have an inability to recall recent episodes after a trauma, but you can recollect episodes in the distant past. And, then you might experience retrograde amnesia where you can't remember events that preceded a trauma, but you can recall events after the trauma.
Causes of Memory Loss
Some common causes of memory loss include:
1. Medications: Numerous over-the-counter and prescription medicines could interfere with or cause memory loss. Potential culprits are:
2. Tobacco, alcohol, or drug use: Consuming alcohol excessively has been known to cause temporary loss of memory. Smoking can harm memory by decreasing how much oxygen you get to your brain. Illegal drugs could change your brain's chemicals that could make it harder to recall memories.
3. Stress and depression: It can be hard to focus and pay attention when you're depressed, which could impact memory. Anxiety and stress could also affect your concentration. When you're tense and your mind is distracted or overstimulated, being able to remember things can be difficult. Emotional trauma stress could also result in memory loss.
4. Sleep deprivation: Both quality and quantity of sleep are essential to memory. Waking frequently or getting too little sleep in the night could cause fatigue which can interfere with your ability to retrieve and consolidate information.
Treatment of Memory Loss
Memory loss treatment depends on what causes it. Often, memory loss might be reversible with treatment. For instance, loss of memory from medicines might resolve by changing the medication.
Treatment might also be specific to memory loss-related conditions. For instance, drugs for treating Alzheimer's disease-related memory problems and those for helping lower blood pressure could help decrease your risk of more dementia-related brain damage related to high blood pressure.
What Is Hearing loss?
Your ear consists of several parts - the middle, the outer, and the inner ear. You could have difficulty hearing if you have an issue with any of these parts.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Ask yourself some of these questions below and if the answer to three or more is "yes", you might have some loss of hearing and should have the doctor check your hearing:
- Do you struggle hearing people and it causes you embarrassment?
- Does it frustrate you to talk with others because it's hard to hear them?
- Do you feel limited or restricted when you have an issue hearing?
- Do you feel like you can hear, but you don't understand what's being said?
- Is it difficult to understand the dialogue on movies, internet videos or in the theater?
- Are you always asking people to repeat themselves?
- Do you feel like people mumble?
- Do you turn the volume of the radio or TV up to a point where it's too loud for other people?
Causes of Hearing Loss
Some potential causes of hearing loss include:
- Head trauma
- Loud noise exposure
- Disease or virus
- Aging (presbycusis)
- Autoimmune inner ear disease
- Inner ear malformation
Treatment of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss treatment will depend on how bad your hearing loss is. There are numerous aids and devices that can help you hear better. Some common ones are:
1. Hearing aids: These are electronic instruments you wear behind or in your ear. They amplify sounds.
2. Cochlear implants: These are small electronic devices a doctor surgically implants in your inner ear. They help offer a sense of sound if you're experiencing more severe hearing loss. They can be recommended for one ear or both.
3. Assistive listening devices: These include captioned phones, amplifying devices, tablet or smartphone apps.
4. Bone anchored hearing systems: These bypass your middle ear and ear canal and are made to use the natural ability of your body to transfer sound through bone conduction. The sound is picked up by the sound processor where it's converted into vibrations and the vibrations are relayed to your inner ear through your skull bone.
5. Speechreading or lipreading: These are often used to augment a cochlear implant or hearing aid for helping individuals who have a loss of hearing follow conversations. Individuals using this method will pay close attention to what other people are saying by following their body movements and mouth movements.
Correlations and Connections Between Hearing Loss, Memory Loss, and Dementia?
Is there a dementia connection between hearing loss and memory loss? Researchers are finding more evidence of a link between memory loss and hearing loss, and that hearing difficulty increases your likelihood of developing dementia which is marked by:
- Loss of memory
- Problem-solving issues
- Trouble with thinking
- Issues with other mental tasks
But, this doesn't mean individuals with hearing loss (around two-thirds of adults who are older than 70 years old) will definitely develop dementia. It just means their risk is higher, according to the journal Aging & Mental Health.
A Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study showed individuals experiencing hearing loss had a 24% higher risk of having Alzheimer's. Another study found the worse the loss of hearing, the more likely the individual will develop dementia. Both studies don't suggest dementia is caused by hearing loss, but only that there's an association between the two.
Researchers have found an individual's risk of mental decline seems to increase the worse their hearing loss issues are. For example, one study showed hearing loss (mild, moderate, or severe) made the odds of developing dementia two-times, three-times, and five-times higher over the next decade or more.
And, it also seems to occur quicker. Research of older adults with some type of hearing loss found they experienced mental decline about 30% to 40% quicker on average.
Why It's Important to Get Your Hearing Checked and Treated?
It's a good idea to think of a hearing test as a type of screening instead of an exam. All too often, people just assume hearing tests are only for individuals with hearing problems, similar to a vision test for those having trouble seeing. However, hearing screenings don't just identify hearing loss; they can actually uncover many medical and physical issues that you might not have realized you had (some don't display symptoms).
A regular hearing exam enables your hearing care doctor to:
Diagnose Health Conditions
While aging is typically the cause of most hearing loss, some losses are due to underlying health conditions. For example, diabetes can cause hearing troubles and there's a link between high blood pressure and both tinnitus and hearing loss.
Identify Potential Issues
Similar to a vision test, an annual hearing test will allow the doctor to track any hearing changes and make necessary adjustments. They can compare new audiograms you take with those you've taken prior which will allow them to see how quickly your hearing is changing and alert them of any possible dangers, which could include noise-induced hearing loss or earwax buildup.
Prevent Further Damage
By allowing hearing issues to progress, you lose far more than simply your ability to hear. Because of your hearing limitations, you could:
- Become depressed
- Struggle with anxiety in public situations
- Increasingly isolate yourself
Hearing loss can increase your risk of injuries because you're less likely to hear:
- Smoke alarms
- Car horns
- Other sounds signaling danger
Identifying mild hearing issues could actually be a good thing since it will enable you to prevent the worsening of your hearing loss. Hearing loss can be treated quickly, helping to identify any potential issues and help restore your hearing quickly.
Contact Houston Hearing Center for Your Hearing Screening
Houston Hearing Center helps individuals throughout the metro Houston area restore their hearing so they can go on to live quality lives. Our experienced audiologists commit to offering all patients, no matter their age, with outstanding hearing and balancing care. We individualize our treatment approach to the individual and their own needs. Contact us today to set up your hearing test appointment.