The decline and loss of hearing are common problems that can occur more frequently with age. While solutions, including advanced hearing aids, exist, several studies indicate that it's crucial to be vigilant about these issues as they may be linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. What is this correlation, and what can be done? As we recently celebrated National Hearing Day on March 10th, Senior Home Plus examines the connection between hearing loss and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
Hearing Loss as a Risk Factor for Dementia
During an interview with Retraite Plus, neurologist Sandra Benizri emphasized the importance for elderly individuals to maintain an active social life and preserve their relationships to reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Dr. Benizri explained, "Social interaction is fundamental to preventing dementia. Depression is a significant risk factor, as is social isolation. Social interaction keeps the brain active, and when a person is isolated, their brain is less engaged."
However, hearing loss can lead to social withdrawal and hinder communication. Several studies have revealed a connection between hearing impairments and dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common, followed by Parkinson's. Indeed, more cases of Alzheimer's have been observed among individuals with hearing loss. Additionally, when hearing impairments are added to the symptoms of Alzheimer's, the person's condition deteriorates more rapidly. Without regular stimulation, neurons eventually die.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Franck Lin of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland, as reported by the Polyclinique de l'Oreille website, confirms that older individuals with hearing loss are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia than those with normal hearing. Among a large sample of 2,000 elderly individuals aged 75 to 84, researchers observed a 30% to 40% higher rate of cognitive decline in those with hearing loss. The researchers were able to establish a direct link between the degree of hearing loss and cognitive decline.
Why Does Hearing Loss Increase the Risk of Dementia Like Alzheimer's?
There are several explanations for the link between hearing loss and dementia. As mentioned earlier, hearing loss exacerbates isolation and social withdrawal, which are undeniable risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. The consequences of isolating an elderly person can even be seen from a physiological perspective and can lead to various syndromes, including increased stress sensitivity. This causality link may also be explained by the fact that hearing loss requires increased efforts from the relevant brain areas, at the expense of other parts of the brain, particularly those related to memory.
Thus, hearing impairments may create conditions conducive to dementia, such as Alzheimer's, or at least have a long-term impact on cognitive abilities. Therefore, it is imperative for elderly individuals to undergo regular screenings, receive proper care, and consider hearing aids if necessary.
Hearing Loss as a Symptom of Parkinson's Disease
While we have discussed the impact of hearing loss on the onset or progression of dementia, it can also be one of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. A team from Queen Mary University of London recently discovered that among the early signs of Parkinson's disease are epilepsy and hearing loss. This British study, reported by the specialized website Santé Log and based on a very large population sample, provides additional insights into symptoms less commonly associated with Parkinson's disease, such as tremors and memory problems. The researchers collected data from electronic health records of over one million people in East London between 1990 and 2018. These findings will help identify early signs of Parkinson's disease and facilitate earlier diagnosis to improve patient care.
To reduce isolation and social withdrawal, enhance the well-being of elderly individuals, and identify early symptoms of Parkinson's disease, it is essential not to overlook hearing loss, consult a professional who can guide us toward further examinations and appropriate solutions.
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