Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Their Link to Hearing Loss
Updated September 21, 2016
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada 747,000 Canadians were living with the disease and other dementias in 2011, which represents 14.9% of Canadians 65 years old and older.
The organization says that number could increase to 1.4 million people by 2031. The number of people with dementia is expected to reach well over 100 million globally by 2050.
Long-term study findings
A long-term study has shown that brain shrinkage is accelerated in older adults with hearing loss.
The findings, collected by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging in the United States, found that the brains of people with hearing loss shrunk by an additional cubic centimeter compared with those who had normal hearing.
The study is part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which was started in 1958. The researchers tracked the brain changes of 126 participants, using annual MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). The participants were tracked for up to 10 years.
Each person completed a full physical, including hearing tests, at the time of their first MRI. The participant`s physicals revealed that 75 of them had normal hearing and 51 of them were hearing impaired.
Increased rates of brain atrophy in people with hearing loss
Researchers found that those with hearing loss not only had increased rates of brain atrophy, they had significantly increased brain shrinkage, particularly in brain structures responsible for processing sound and speech.
Previous research has found the brain structures in humans and animals with hearing impairment were smaller, especially in structures that processed sound.
Frank Lin, MD., PhD, revealed that he and his colleagues weren’t surprised about these findings.
Need to address any suspected hearing loss
However, he says “these structures don’t work in isolation, and their responsibilities don’t end at sorting out sounds and language. The middle and inferior temporal gyri, for example, also play roles in memory and sensory integration and have been shown to be involved in the early stages of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Lin stresses the need to deal with suspected hearing loss sooner rather than later and before the brain changes his research team found take place.
It may be a good idea to listen to Lin’s advice.
Social and economic impact of Alzheimer’s and other dementias
The toll of Alzheimer’s and dementias not only affects our personal lives, there’s also an economic impact.
About $33 billion dollars per year is lost in medical expenses and lost income. That number could soar to $293 billion by 2040.
Total healthcare costs worldwide currently sit at $604 billion US.
One in five caregivers are family members and a quarter of that number are seniors. Up to 75% of them will develop some form of physical or psychological illness.
Interventions could slow down onset
So working to identify solutions to Alzheimer’s and dementias is vital not just for the well-being of those who are diagnosed with them, but for the entire family and society as a whole.
According to WebMD, “researchers say that interventions that could delay the onset of dementia by even one year could lead to a more than 10% decrease in its prevalence over the next 40 years.”
The Alzheimer’s Society’s current campaign urges us to “Be there. For those who are #StillHere.