The Link Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Hearing Loss

Do you find that as each year goes by, so does five more pegs on the television volume? Has someone standing in front of you said something and all you could muster up in response was a resounding, “Huh?” Have you found that you are starting to lose those keys, your glasses, and your mind all at once?

Unless you have a time machine, the answer to all of these questions will undoubtedly become “Yes,” at some point in your life. The reason being is that with each breath that we take, we are getting uncontrollably older.


Hearing changes as we age. However, we cannot rest on laurels and succumb to the notion that hearing loss is inevitable and move on with our day. The reasoning this is so serious is because hearing loss may be a warning sign for a far bigger issue looming in darkness. That dreadful result is Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Truth About Getting Old

From the moment the doctor first spanked our behinds, the aging process officially began in our lives. From toddlerhood through teenage years, puberty starts to strike.

We then grow into full-fledged adults and then we start to shrink back down. Bones that grew strong become brittle and weak. Our libidos decrease. Hormones deplete. The mind loses its sharpness. Everything within us is aging as we are.

We try to starve off cosmetic changes by dying our graying hair and using makeup on crow’s feet.

However, we eventually learn to accept and adapt to our changes. Many will go through life ignoring their inability to hear like they once did. However, this may be a critical decision.

Hearing loss comes with the territory of getting older. However, it may also be a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease. We are going to explore how hearing has a deep-rooted influence on the brain, and what we can do as we get older to curb the spread of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Hearing Loss and Alzheimer’s

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA) has been following a litany of different health factors that affect both men and women as they age. Conducting these studies as early as 1958, the published results caught the eye of one Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Lin serves as an assistant professor at John Hopkins University of Medicine’s Division of Otology. When he discovered the research from the original reports documented by BLSA, he stated,

“Researchers have looked at what affects hearing loss, but few have looked at how hearing loss affects cognitive brain function. There hasn’t been much crosstalk between otologists and geriatricians, so it’s been unclear whether hearing loss and dementia are related.”

Upon reading these results, Dr. Lin started to pay closer attention to hearing and cognitive abilities of the test subjects conducted by BLSA during the years of 1990 until 1994. During this time period, Dr. Lin noted that none of the 639 total subjects had dementia while the study was conducted. He further examined that a quarter of the participants did report that they were suffering from issues related to hearing loss.

Participants in these studies were examined and evaluated approximately every one to two years. 58 of these test subjects developed dementia by 2008. As the results are further examined, it is revealed that those who initially reported suffering from hearing loss at the start of the study were significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

As compared to those who participated in the study and did not report any initial hearing loss, those that reported having mild, moderate, and severe cases of hearing loss were two, three, and five times, respectively, more prone develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

How Hearing Loss is Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease

Facing this sort of data, Dr. Lin decided to delve deeper into the connection between loss of hearing and Alzheimer’s Disease. Upon further examination of test subjects’ MRIs, Dr. Lin noticed that anyone who reported trouble with hearing had lost more than a cubic centimeter of tissue within the brain each calendar year. More notably, loss of brain tissue is one of the top symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alongside the decrease in brain tissue, subjects with reported hearing loss also had increased rates of brain atrophy when compared alongside their counterparts without any hearing impairment.

As Dr. Lin corresponded with her partners, they concluded that the brain shrinks at such a rapid pace in those who cannot hear well because there are areas within the brain have become stagnant due to lack of stimulation.
Think of the brain like a muscle. If you don’t work out, then the muscle shrivels up. The section of the brain responsible for picking up sounds throughout a variety of decibels is no longer getting used everywhere. Therefore, it begins to atrophy, which is the start of the Alzheimer’s Disease.

The more digging Dr. Lin did on the MRIs, the more he noticed some other peculiar patterns. The MRIs showed that the atrophied sections within the brain covered the superior, middle, and inferior temporal gyri. A study with 10 post-mortem patients who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease was conducted. In their research, the scientists found that every patient had an atrophied gyi.

The report stated,

“Atrophy is not global but site-specific. Atrophied gyri appear to reflect a specific network of language and semantic memory dissolution seen in the clinical features of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.”

The findings of these studies further cement the link that is present between Alzheimer’s Disease and hearing loss. In each case presented of both, the underlying factor is the growth of gray matter in the brain. Once gray matter grows, it starts to take over the parts of the brain responsible for hearing. This process pretty much marries Alzheimer’s Disease to hearing loss.

How to Handle Hearing Loss

Sitting idly will not do you any favors. To fight off Alzheimer’s Disease, you need to take a proactive and aggressive approach toward early treatment. If you notice any slight change in hearing, do not ignore it.

As explained by Dr. Lin,

 “A lot of people ignore hearing loss because it’s such a slow and insidious process as we age. Even if people feel as if they are not affected, we’re showing that it may well be a more serious problem.”

Confronting hearing loss early on can make so many vital improvements in your life. If your hearing is beginning to slip, there is no shame in consulting a physician about hearing aids.

You are missing out on the world around you by ignoring your hearing loss problem. On top of that, you are doing irreparable harm to your brain by allowing the growth of gray matter. Ignoring hearing loss is a recipe for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dr. Lin summed up the argument by stating,

“If you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.”

Putting off getting treatment for your hearing loss may lead to a case of Alzheimer’s Disease. If you are noticing changes, no matter how slight in your hearing, don’t wait for it to work itself out. Contact your physician for a consultation about your hearing.

 

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