Can Hearing Aids Help Those with Alzheimer’s?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Alzheimer’s disease as a progressive decline in cognitive function, affecting memory, thinking, language and learning capacity.
As an ageing population, it’s expected that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is likely to rise in Australia and around the world.
The Lancet Commission reported in 2015 that approximately 47 million people in the world were living with dementia, warning that the number is set to triple by 2050.
With recent research suggesting a link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease, we must ask ourselves, “how could hearing loss treatment help Alzheimer’s patients?”
In this article, we will dive into how hearing aids could benefit those with Alzheimer’s and address common hearing aid misconceptions.
How to Identify Hearing Loss
Although hearing health is just as important as oral health, skin health and general health, it’s often overlooked due to the stigma surrounding hearing loss.
If you have noticed that you’re finding it more difficult to understand people in a noisy environment or are constantly turning up the volume on the TV, it might be time for a hearing test.
A quick 30-minute hearing test conducted by an accredited audiologist will identify whether you have hearing loss, how severe it is and whether you need a hearing aid. The hearing test will include otoscopy, air and bone conduction, speech discrimination and tympanometry.
Otoscopy requires the audiologist (or audiometrist) to examine the outer ear with a ‘torch-like’ piece of equipment called an otoscope. If the outer ear is clear of wax and debris, the hearing test can continue.
Air and bone conduction testing measures the smallest sounds that an individual can hear and involves the patient pressing a trigger each time they hear a sound.
Speech discrimination testing seeks to quantify these thresholds and determines whether amplification via hearing aids is warranted.
Finally, tympanometry testing is used to automatically measure the middle ear’s health.
Hearing Loss Treatment: Hearing Aids
Currently, hearing aids remain the most commonly accepted form of treatment for mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
Hearing aids come in a range of styles and technology levels, from very basic manual devices to more advanced automatic devices. However, one thing is clear – the hearing aid market is ever-changing.
Hearing aids improve quality of life by reducing listening effort and increasing social participation by amplifying sounds. The prescription of hearing aids requires both a highly motivated patient and an understanding audiologist.
Many patients with Alzheimer’s disease attend the clinic with a family member or friend for support, which is highly encouraged.
At the hearing aid discussion appointment, the patient will be asked to list the environments they might attend daily, weekly and monthly. This will allow the audiologist to identify which level of technology might be most suitable for the patient’s needs.
How Can Hearing Aids Help Alzheimer’s Patients?
There is growing evidence that treating peripheral (cochlear) hearing loss could positively impact Alzheimer’s patients.
While the mechanism underlying how hearing loss contributes to cognitive decline is unclear, it’s long been thought that hearing loss might add to the cognitive load of a predisposed dementia brain or lead to social disengagement/isolation.
It’s also thought that when Alzheimer’s disease and presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) are comorbid, communication difficulties can increase, including stress in both the patient and their loved ones.
Therefore, fitting hearing aids to assist with communication difficulties might reduce the stress on all involved parties, not just the Alzheimer’s sufferer.
With advancements in hearing aid technology, it’s now thought that any hearing aid may help Alzheimer’s patients to increase social engagement and reduce cognitive load, not just the best hearing aids on the market.
Common Hearing Aid Misconceptions
One of the most common misconceptions about hearing aids is that they are only worn by older people. However, audiologists around the world have seen a downward shift in the average age of the initial user uptake. This is due in part to advancements in the hearing aid technology available, such as being able to pair with your mobile phone, tablet or smart TV.
Another misconception is that by seeing an audiologist, you are opening yourself up to the risk that the professional is only there to sell you the best hearing aids on the market, whether your hearing loss warrants amplification. While the best hearing aids on the market should help all patients, most patients find the cost the biggest roadblock to hearing aid uptake and ultimately success.
By taking the time to assess an individual’s main areas of concern and by choosing the correct hearing aids for those needs, the success is then put back into the hands of the hearing aid user.
To Sum It Up
As is the case with most health problems, research into Alzheimer’s reinforces just how important early hearing loss treatment could be for Alzheimer’s patients.
So, by addressing hearing loss concerns earlier in life, we might be able to modify the risk of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in later life.
While hearing aids are the most commonly accepted form of treatment for mid to moderately severe hearing losses, there is still a gap in the education available to the wider community about how earlier intervention may lead to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and better hearing aid success.
If you or someone you know has Alzheimer’s disease, it may be beneficial to book a hearing test with your nearest Attune Hearing clinic to determine if hearing aids are warranted. Book an appointment online or contact us on 1300 736 702.