Multiple studies have been published over the years linking untreated hearing loss with increases in cognitive decline. A new theory published last month in Neuron proposes that the memory center of the brain holds the key to connecting hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, constituting 60-80% of all cases. Alzheimer’s disease affects memory, thinking and behavior.
This progressive disorder slowly worsens over time. Individuals with this disease will start having difficulty remembering newly learned information. As the disease advances, more severe symptoms occur, including:
- Mood and behavior changes
- Increased confusion about time, events and places
- Serious memory loss and behavior changes
- Difficulty speaking, walking and swallowing
Early intervention is key, as treatment options have dramatically improved.
How Do Alzheimer’s Disease and Hearing Loss Connect?
There are three ways hearing loss and dementia have been linked in the past:
- An underlying cause for both conditions
- A decrease in sound-related input causes brain shrinkage
- More brain resources are needed to compensate for hearing loss, making them unavailable for other tasks
The researchers at Newcastle University suggest that the connection between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease lies in the brain’s memory center, located deep in the temporal lobe.
The memory center is where both long-term memory of places and events and short-term memory are stored. In addition, the manipulation of auditory information is also completed in this area of the brain.
Professor Tim Griffiths from Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences explains, “The challenge has been to explain how a disorder of the ear can lead to a degenerative problem in the brain. We suggest a new theory based on how we use what is generally considered to be the memory system in the brain when we have difficulty listening in real-world environments.”
Dr. Will Sedly, also from the school’s Faculty of Medical Sciences further clarifies, “This memory system engaged in difficult listening is the most common site for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. We propose that altered activity in the memory system caused by hearing loss and the Alzheimer’s disease process trigger each other. Researchers now need to examine this mechanism in models of the pathological process to test if this new theory is right.” To learn more about the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline or to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert, contact Total Hearing Care of Dallas today.