What Hearing Loss And Dementia Have In Common

Many symptoms of hearing loss in seniors—such as disinterest, personality changes, and general confusion—are also the same symptoms of dementia. For this reason, it’s important to get professional medical attention so the proper issue is being treated.

After arthritis and heart disease, hearing loss is the third most common physical condition experienced by seniors. A third of all people have hearing loss by the age of 65. Statistics show that only one in five seniors who could benefit from hearing treatment seek help. Many put it off until it becomes a constant obstacle to communication—and this hesitation can increase their risk of dementia.

A Connection to Serious Health Conditions

More studies must be done, but most medical experts agree that there is a connection between hearing loss and its impact on dementia or cognitive decline.

One part of this theory is that if the brain is constantly trying to interpret sounds that are difficult to hear, it spends less time and energy on things like memory and thinking. Cognitive load is decreased. Hearing loss may also contribute to faster rates of decline of the parts of the brain that process sound. These are the same areas of the brain that help with memory and the senses. Finally, people with profound hearing loss often withdraw from social activities. Studies show that decreased social engagement can contribute to cognitive decline.

Solutions

First and foremost, it’s crucial to have a medical professional determine if the cause of behavioral changes is because of the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or as a result of hearing loss. If it’s because of hearing loss, it’s time to remedy the situation.

Be prepared. Hearing aids are expensive, and they may not even be affordable for seniors who are on a fixed budget. Medicare will not cover hearing examinations or hearing aids. While they can make an amazing difference, hearing aids can cost as much $2,500 for each ear—or even more.

There are alternatives to hearing aids, and they may be a better solution. These alternatives are called personal sound amplification products. They’re less expensive because unlike hearing aids, they are not regulated by the FDA.

So, while they are not required to meet specific technical or performance standards, it doesn’t mean they can’t be just as effective. It only means that you’ll have to be more careful by doing deeper research into the quality of the device you purchase. The cost savings is well worth the time spent.

Don’t let hearing problems rob a senior you care for of their quality of life. There are relatively inexpensive options to hearing aids, and even these may help to ward off the conditions that may lead to cognitive decline.

Visiting Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease can make strangers out of loved ones as the disease progresses. Even so, they may still appreciate and benefit from visits by family and friends.

Caregivers may be used to the behavior caused by Alzheimer’s disease. For the rest of us, it takes some getting used to. You can prepare your visit for success by following these tips.

Don’t

  • Ask, “Do you remember?” Problems with memory already frustrate seniors with Alzheimer’s throughout the day. A question like this is likely to cause them embarrassment or anger.
  • Take nasty or mean things they say to you personally. This behavior is often caused by confusion, anger, or fear. They don’t mean it.
  • Argue with them. Let it go if they insist something is correct.
  • Assume they can’t remember anything. Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t rob them of all their memories, and many seniors with the disease have many moments of clarity.

Do

  • Keep your body language and tone of voice friendly and positive. It’s not necessary to speak louder than your normal tone of voice—unless you know they struggle with hearing loss. Let them ask you to speak up first.
  • Gently introduce yourself while you make eye contact. You might be certain they know who you are, but this might be an incorrect assumption.
  • Allow for silences in your conversation. A senior with Alzheimer’s may simply enjoy your nearby physical presence.
  • Speak slowly. Converse with short sentences, and stick to a single idea. Be sure to give them some extra time to respond. Go with the flow if they switch the subject—even if it’s not true or doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s often best to let them direct the conversation.
  • Ask open-ended questions. If Alzheimer’s is impacting their ability to make decisive responses, it’s easier for them when there’s no absolute right or wrong answer.
  • Talk about shared memories from the past. Alzheimer’s is known for its disruption of short-term memory. They’re more likely to be able to remember occurrences from long ago.
  • Come with a photo album or some of their favorite music. Make it an activity that engages them and gives them the opportunity to lead if they choose.
  • Offer a gentle hug if you’re certain they would permit and enjoy it.

Finally, remember that a visit may be just as stressful to a senior with Alzheimer’s disease as it is for family members and friends who are not used to being around someone who has succumbed to dementia. They may be frustrated by their inability to remember who you are. Use that frustration positively. Retell the story of a favorite shared moment. Make it new again.

Understanding dementia before you visit makes it easier for you, and for them.