Dad began losing his hearing long before we recognized any signs of what turned out to be frontotemporal dementia. Now I’m wondering, thanks to recent headlines, whether his hearing loss is related to his dementia.
Dr. Frank Lin, from the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, published a paper saying hearing loss in older adults is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. It might be that dementia is overdiagnosed in people who have hearing loss. Or, people with cognitive impairment may be overdiagnosed as having hearing loss. Lin says it’s possible one underlying neuropathologic process is shared by the two conditions. They could also be causally related, he told MedScape Today, “possibly through exhaustion of cognitive reserve, social isolation, environmental deafferentation, or a combination of these pathways.”
For his study, he worked with 639 people from ages 36 to 90 years, over an almost 12-year period. Fifty-eight of them developed dementia, including 37 cases of Alzheiemer’s disease. He says the risk of developing dementia increased linearly with the severity of baseline hearing loss. His work is published in the Archives of Neurology and concludes by saying, “whether hearing loss is a marker for early-stage dementia or is actually a modifiable risk factor for dementia deserves further study.”
Isn’t that interesting — just the thought that, perhaps, treating/fixing hearing loss could possibly have an impact on the development of dementia?
Turns out that’s not a new idea. Other research, in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, has shown deficits in central auditory speech-processing may be an early manifestation of probable Alzheimer’s disease and may precede the onset of dementia diagnosis by many years.