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The connection between Alzheimer’s Disease and hearing loss

Every family touched by Alzheimer’s disease knows how much it can take over the lives of the people that have it. Knowing how many people it affects and how much an influence it has on people’s lives, many researchers have devoted years trying to better understand the disease. While a cure is still out of our reach, every new study can bring us closer to piecing together what causes the worst symptoms of the disease and what people may be able to do to reduce their risk or slow the onset.

One such recent study found a potentially important link between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss.

New research links Alzheimer’s and Hearing Loss

Over the past few years, researchers at Johns Hopkins have done studies looking at how hearing loss may influence cognitive decline. In each case, they met with a number of seniors over several years and tracked which ones developed Alzheimer’s and how quickly the disease progressed. Each study showed the people with hearing loss had higher rates of dementia.

In one study, people with hearing loss were 24% more likely to have Alzheimer’s. In another, they found that the worse the hearing loss was, the more likely the person was to develop dementia.

These studies don’t suggest that hearing loss itself causes dementia, but it does show that there’s a link between the two. The researchers have a few theories on why that might be:

  1. Change in brain function: The particular part of your brain in charge of hearing and processing auditory information may simply start to work differently when the hearing part of that equation goes away (or becomes strained), causing a change to how your brain is structured, which could be related to the effects of Alzheimer’s.
  2. Cognitive load: When you can’t hear well, you have to work a lot harder to make sense of what people are saying. Every conversation you participate in requires more mental energy and work. If your everyday conversations are taking up most of the mental energy you have, then there’s less left for you to put toward memory or other cognitive functions.
  3. Social isolation: We know that social isolation can have some very serious effects on both physical and mental health. When it’s hard to hear, it becomes harder to maintain social connections, which can lead to feeling alienated and experiencing all the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness.
  4. They share a cause: The researchers behind the study are confident they managed to control this, but concede there is some possibility Alzheimer’s and hearing loss may both be caused by some third health issue that people who experienced both in the study shared.

Though we don’t know if the relationship between Alzheimer’s and hearing loss is due to one of these things or some combination of them, but simply knowing the relationship exists is a step toward being able to do something about it.

What this means for people with Alzheimer’s

First off, it’s important to note that having hearing loss doesn’t mean your loved one is going to develop Alzheimer’s. Many people begin to have trouble hearing in their senior years and manage to live out those years without experiencing dementia. But the link does suggest to us that if we can do something to minimize hearing loss, there’s a decent chance that we can also minimize the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s or the severity of it if someone does get it.

In fact, there’s an additional study that bears this theory out. Researchers at a hospital in Paris provided a number of people with deafness in at least one ear with a cochlear implant and tracked their cognitive performance before and after receiving the implant along with auditory rehabilitation. 80% of the people studied showed cognitive improvement within a year. For comparison, those are better results by nearly double than any approved drugs for treating dementia.

Any senior experiencing hearing loss should make a point to seek out treatments for it. Not only will it make it much easier to communicate with friends and loved ones and continue to participate in the many everyday activities that require hearing, but it could help them avoid or stave off Alzheimer’s for longer.


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The 5 most common reactions to hearing loss

Let’s face it, we’ve all come across a wide range of reactions to hearing loss, from mild embarrassment to the extreme joker desperate to make light of the situation. Most people do not know how to react, how to communicate effectively with a hearing impaired individual, or perhaps do not have the patience to do so hence the sometimes extreme reactions.

It is important that individuals know how to communicate with hearing-impaired people of all ages and degrees of hearing loss so that we can combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

How not to react:

1. The Joker

You know, that one person who thinks it’s funny to cup their hand over their ear and loudly exclaim “You’re what?”. It’s not funny the first time, let alone the millionth time but somehow you always find yourself politely tittering at their playground joke as if you have never heard it before.

2. The shouter

Another common reaction is shouting. People often believe that talking louder will help us to hear them better but volume is not the key and it actually makes life a lot harder for us, especially if we are trying to lip-read.

3. The embarrassed face

People often get embarrassed when faced with disabilities/issues they do not know how to deal with and become quite quiet, preferring not to attempt communication in case they get it wrong.

4. The tutter

I’m sure many of you will have come across this person; the one who tuts at you when you ask them to repeat a word/phrase or sentence as if you are putting them out. It often makes people feel embarrassed for having hearing loss and that they should be apologising for it.

5. The apologiser

Constantly apologising for everything is not a great mannerism and whilst their intentions may well be good, it can become annoying very quickly.

 

How you should react:

So now you know what not to do in this situation, we have 5 helpful tips for what to do to ensure that you can communicate effectively.

1. Speak clearly and at moderate (normal) pace

There is no need for you to slow down speech or shout, in fact, this can hinder lip-reading.

2. Do not over-enunciate / exaggerate facial expressions

Again, this can hinder lip-reading as words get distorted.

3. Try to choose a well-lit environment

This is an important tip; well-lit environments mean we are able to see your face clear from shadows or obstructions which is particularly helpful when lip-reading.

4. Face the person you are speaking with

Again, this will assist lip-reading

5. Ask the individual what works for them

Everyone is different, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another so by asking, you are showing that you want to improve communication and care about their needs.


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Advanced Hearing tinnitus relief

Everything you need to know about Tinnitus

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It is estimated that around six million people – that’s about one in ten of the population – are affected by the ear condition, tinnitus. And, for as many as 600,000 of those sufferers, the symptoms can be so severe that it can seriously impact on quality of life.

What’s more, as many as a third of the population are likely to suffer from tinnitus at some time in their lives.

So if you are silently soldiering on with tinnitus – there may be some comfort in knowing you are far from alone.

What is Tinnitus?

The name comes from the Latin word tinnire to ring – which is very apt. Basically, it’s a hearing disorder where a person is plagued with a mixture of ringing, buzzing, whistling and humming noises in the ear. The sounds actually emanate from within the body.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom which can be associated with a number of underlying causes. It is certainly linked with age-related hearing loss, but tinnitus has also been attributed to inner ear damage, resulting from repeated exposure to loud noises. A build up of ear wax or even middle ear infection can also trigger it, as well as Ménière’s disease, a condition that causes hearing loss and vertigo (loss of balance). Otosclerosis, an inherited condition involving abnormal middle ear bone growth, is another culprit.

Prevention

Whilst there is no known cure for tinnitus – and no medication to treat it – the good news is that the condition is manageable. Prevention is certainly the best option and this can be achieved by:

  • Protecting your ears from noise damage by using earplugs or muffs
  • Avoiding the use of cotton buds. Ears clean themselves naturally and buds can actually push wax further into the ear or, worse still, damage the ear drum
  • Treating ear infections quickly
  • Exercising regularly and controlling blood pressure

Managing Tinnitus

In the absence of a full-blown cure, management is the most effective treatment. And there’s plenty of help at hand, on which we can advise you.  The best known of these involves counselling aligned with a range of talk and sound therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT can be delivered either via the internet or in a one-to-one session.

There is also tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). This is a process of learning to handle tinnitus on a conscious and subconscious level and has been known to benefit a lot of people.

So you don’t have to deal with this on your own.

At Advanced Hearing, we can advise on the best course of treatment, depending on the level and severity of the tinnitus you are experiencing.

Initially, if you are worried about your hearing, you can book a hearing check at your local branch. Find one near you – click here.


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The mechanics of hearing.

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When you think of the ears, the first thing that would usually come to mind would be those two protruding flaps that stick out from either side of the head!

As if that’s all there is to each ear.

But there’s whole hidden world that constitutes the complete ear. And whilst the inner workings are out of sight, the obscured parts of this wonderful piece of apparatus all combine to play an integral role in our ability to hear.

The external outer ear, known as the pinna, is only one element of a complex anatomical structure that enables us to hear all sorts of sounds. The rest of the hearing organ – the inaccessible components – comprise the middle and inner ear, the latter which is buried deep inside the temporal bone on either side of the skull. You can feel the temporal bone – it’s just behind the outer ear. Given that these structural components are so intricate, it is hardly surprising that studying the mechanics of hearing is so tricky.

Here’s how we actually hear.

Firstly, sound waves are directed via the pinna through the outer ear channel (external auditory meatus). The waves then hit the eardrum (the tympanic membrane) causing it to vibrate.

Once beyond the eardrum, the sound travels into the middle ear which consists of a small air-filled chamber, home to the three smallest bones in the body, known as ossicles, comprising the malleus, the incus and the stapes. These bones tap against each other and transmit vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. Here they cause a pressure wave to propagate in the fluids of the cochlea, a spiral-shaped, fluid filled tube, divided lengthwise by the organ of Corti, the main vehicle of mechanical to neural transduction, which transmits information about the incoming sound to the brainstem.

From there, the signals are projected to the inferior colliculus in the midbrain tectum. The inferior colliculus integrates auditory input with limited input from other parts of the brain and is involved in subconscious reflexes, such as the auditory startle response.

In turn, the inferior colliculus projects to the medial geniculate nucleus where sound information is relayed to the primary auditory cortex in the temporal lobe. It is believed it is here that sound first becomes consciously experienced.

Finally, around the primary auditory cortex lies Wernickes area, the area involved in interpreting sounds that are necessary to understand spoken words.

And there you have it – truly a wonder to behold.


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Hearing loss is expected to increase.

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You’d assume that hearing loss is something that only occurs when you get older and that for the younger generation it’s nothing to be worried about.

But it’s not only those reaching more advanced years that are struggling with their hearing. Those in their 20s and 30s and even children are now increasingly likely to be affected.

According to a recent high-level study in the United States, the number of adults with hearing loss (from the age of 20) is expected to nearly double in the coming decades. This will fuel the demand for hearing tests and hearing aids.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case, but the most common of these is the prolonged and unsafe exposure to loud music – through headphones, live music events and even in the car. These are all activities which are just as commonplace in SA as they are in America, which would suggest that increased hearing loss is likely to become as prevalent here – across a widening age range.

Is it preventable?

In most cases, yes. If you wear headphones or have music playing in the car, the best advice is to listen at no more than 60% of full volume. Obviously, if you are at a concert it’s impossible to ask for the sound to be turned down but, if possible, step outside or away from the noisiest areas for periods of time. This will give your ears a rest. Also, try to position yourself as far away from the speakers as you can.

Are you affected by hearing loss?

If you suspect that your hearing isn’t as good as it should be – regardless of your age – then it’s advisable to have it checked out by a professional. This is especially important with children, as any symptoms are best caught early to prevent any long term damage.

What remedies are there for hearing loss?

Firstly, it’s important to have your ears tested regularly. Like eyes, our ears are delicate instruments, so having a regular check-up to ensure nothing is going amiss, should be given equal priority.

If it was found that there was significant hearing loss, then we would recommend using hearing aids.

As well as hearing tests, however, there is plenty we can do ourselves to look after our ears. If you work in a noisy environment, for instance, make sure you wear some sort of ear protection. And if you are a music lover, remember to keep the volume down or consider using earplugs for extra protection. You’ll be doing your ears a huge favour.

It’s easy to take our hearing for granted – especially when we are younger. But, as statistics are beginning to show, age is clearly no barrier to the possibility of hearing loss.


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