More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and its devastating symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, and depression. While there is no cure for the disease or way to predict who will get it, research indicates that use of hearing aids might help avoid or delay the effects of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But can hearing aids also improve quality of life for those already suffering from the disease?
Since tomorrow is World Alzheimer’s Day – a day about raising awareness, supporting efforts to find a cure, and making life easier for patients and their families – we’re going to take a look at the research already done on the subject and what these findings hold for the future.
Hearing loss in Alzheimer’s patients: a missed connection
Hearing loss can exacerbate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, make it even more difficult for sufferers to communicate, and increase feelings of confusion and social isolation. However, hearing loss typically goes untested and undiagnosed; a lack of response to verbal cues is often attributed to decreased cognitive function rather than loss of hearing.
Considering the frustration patients and their caregivers experience due to difficulties around communication, a hearing exam can help determine if other factors are at play. Some individuals may simply have wax buildup, in which case a cleaning can help. But if hearing loss is found, research suggests hearing aids could be beneficial as well.
What we know about hearing aids and Alzheimer’s disease so far
A United Kingdom-based study conducted in 2003 found that when dementia patients with mild hearing loss were fitted with hearing aids, 42 percent showed improvement on the Clinical Global Impression of change scale. Participants in the study also demonstrated a collective 32.9 percent increase in the proportion of speech that was audible after using hearing aids, while caregivers and patients themselves reported overall reduced disability from hearing loss.
The impact of hearing aid use among Alzheimer’s patients was also evaluated in a 2013 study featured in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The results found that individuals who used hearing aids showed slower rates of memory decline compared to participants with hearing loss who did not use hearing aids. Additionally, the study found the cognitive decline of hard of hearing individuals using hearing aids to be only slightly greater than those with normal hearing.
Improving how Alzheimer’s patients hear the world
While it may be too early to recommend all individuals with Alzheimer’s and hearing loss be given hearing aids, and more research is needed to make a firm conclusion, the studies already conducted suggest positive outcomes. As we continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s and its connection to hearing loss, anything that can improve the quality of life for those afflicted by the disease and how they interact with the world is definitely worth further examination.