Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, currently affecting over 50 million people worldwide. Ten million new cases are reported annually, and it’s projected that by 2050 this devastating disease could affect 152 million! This is why it is important to understand what we can do, as individuals, as family members and as friends of those affected by this dementia, to prevent or delay symptoms of developing. Every September, Alzheimer’s Disease International celebrates World Alzheimer’s Month as an international effort to educate, advocate and raise awareness of those affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Aging
There are many factors which increase the risk of dementia. Some we can control and others we cannot. Aging is one factor which cannot be modified. The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older (1 in 16 over 65 and 1 in 6 over 80). However, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of ageing. Alzheimer’s occurs when amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are found in the brain tissue. These structures in part with the damage to brain cells makes it difficult for cells to communicate with each other. The result is memory loss, which becomes more severe as the condition progresses. In addition, patients may experience confusion over time, personality changes and mood swings. As the condition progresses it can be hard for patients to complete everyday tasks as motor function diminishes.
Modifiable Risk Factors
There are, however, several modifiable risk factors which can lower the risk of developing dementia. Many of these have to do with your general health, such as monitoring diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular health. This is because a healthy body with a healthy supply of blood is key to maintaining a healthy brain. Other modifiable risks have more to do with social engagement which can stimulate your brain, keeping it sharp, engaged and healthy. These include receiving higher education, and a healthy social life.
Untreated Hearing Loss and Cognition
Ironically, many modifiable risks for dementia have much to do with making sure you are treating a hearing loss. When you treat a hearing loss you can maintain a rich social life, peruse hobbies, stay active and engaged. Staying active can help you keep a healthy heart, while lowering the risk of diabetes, and hypertension. It is estimated that 466 million people worldwide suffer from hearing loss, a huge portion over the age of 65 as well. While hearing starts in the ears, it is comprehended by the brain. When hearing damage prevents parts of words or sentences to travel to the brain, it can cause brain strain and cognitive exhaustion. It also deters people from social interaction and independence which could potentially keep them active. Extensive research has focused on the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline by Dr. Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins University. His studies have confirmed, that treating hearing loss early is essential to help ward off cognitive decline and dementia.
Untreated Hearing Loss Impact
Dr. Lin’s findings are alarming because most people wait seven to ten years from the time, they first suspect they have a hearing loss to seek treatment. This leaves almost a decade or more, where your brain’s cognitive abilities can decline, increasing the risk of dementia. Those with untreated hearing loss gradually withdraw from their friends and social circles. As relationships decline and self-esteem diminishes, it can lead to chronic depression, increasing the risk of dementia.
Treating Your Hearing Loss
The good news is that hearing loss is a modifiable risk, meaning you can take action now. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids, which amplify the specific sounds you struggle with and help you to socialize, as well as be more alert of the world around you. While these tiny electronic devices can not reverse your hearing to what it once was, they can suppress background noise, amplify speakers in crowded rooms and even connect wirelessly to your phone and TV to make listening easier.
Studies show that hearing aids can improve cognitive functioning, especially if you start treatment early. You may not think that early hearing loss is already affecting your cognition, but it is. Use this September as a call to action. The fight against Alzheimer’s can start with you. Raise awareness and be an example by scheduling a hearing test. If your test shows that you have a hearing loss and hearing aids are needed, wear them proudly!