Hearing loss and Alzheimer’s

Is there a link between hearing loss and those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease?

Based on the experience of some clients of mine recently, I began to wonder if there was any link between hearing loss and those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  In order to best answer the question, I turned to the internet, and referred to the Alzheimer’s Society GB. My findings from the site are in italics. My opinions are my own.

Hearing loss can affect anyone of any age but is more common as our age increases – this is known as ‘acquired hearing loss’ and may be caused by noise, damage or even injury.  As we grow older, our faculties, such as hearing and sight, become naturally affected by the aging process, and both can suffer.  The Alzheimer’s Society GB tells us “…people with hearing loss are also more likely to develop dementia, although at present we don’t know why this is…”.

What are the difficulties of having both hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease?

A person for whom hearing loss is becoming apparent may be confused by the changes.  This in turn may lead them to feel – and appear – distracted, as well as limiting the amount of information they are able to absorb and respond to.  Equally, a person at the early onset stages of Alzheimer’s disease may display the same, or very similar symptoms, which could create a rather difficult diagnostic dilemma.For both illnesses, the key will be communication.  Alzheimer GB advises us “…it’s important for people with dementia to have regular hearing tests…the starting point is to speak to the GP who should refer you to an audiologist…audiology tests can be adapted for people with dementia if it is needed…”

Further, one affliction may mask the symptoms of the other.  Even more distressing is the assumption that a person with dementia does not need a hearing test as they won’t understand it.  Quite the contrary is true.

Also, if left untreated and undiagnosed, both issues can create a further problem of isolation – be it voluntary self-exclusion from the sufferer to reduce their stress, or from people around them who simply ‘don’t bother’ to include them as they think there’s no point.

How can we help a person who has both afflictions?

For me, there are a couple of considerations here, that are applicable to either, and both, condition. The first will always be that we should be patient and focused with the person who is distracted.  Secondly, I advise that we consider changing our communication skills to maximise effectiveness and reduce the stress of the sufferer.  A person with Alzheimer’s disease will likely already feel enormously stressed and frustrated, and will be cognisant of any further stress and frustration they pick up from you.  Also, whilst they might not understand the message you are trying to convey to them, the sufferer will certainly read your tone of voice, and that, more than the words you use, will be have a lasting impact on them.  Someone with acquired hearing loss will similarly be frustrated.

The Alzheimer GB site’s top tips for helping those with hearing loss and dementia are:

  • Regular hearing checks
  • Improve the environment for example by reducing background noise and distractions
  • Find out the person’s preferred way of communicating
  • Use gestures and expressions and let people see your face when communicating
  • Use visual clues and prompts

If you have any thoughts or worries about someone in your life who may be suffering with either hearing loss or dementia, please contact me – I might just be able to help.