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Hearing loss may be early sign of Alzheimer's, dementia

January 25, 2013

It's easy to assume that becoming hard of hearing is a natural part of aging. After all, as many as one-third of adults between 65 and 74 years of age have some level of hearing impairment, according to the National Center on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. However, new research out of The Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health may change the way some people think of the condition.

The findings, which come from a study of more than 1,900 adults with an average age of 77, suggest there is a relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline and impairment. To test the connection, researchers conducted several tests and studied participants over the course of six years. Rather than discovering hearing loss is a part of healthy aging, they noticed participants with auditory issues were 24 percent more likely to have cognitive impairment.

"Our results demonstrate that hearing loss is independently associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older adults," the authors, led by Dr. Frank R. Lin, wrote in a press release. Researchers also found that cognitive decline progresses about 30 to 40 percent faster in seniors with hearing problems.

Scientists admit that more studies need to be conducted to affirm the relationship between hearing and cognitive performance, but the results do highlight the importance of finding methods to identify Alzheimer's and dementia as early as possible. Memory care experts say early diagnosis offers seniors and their families considerably more options.

Currently, there are a variety of early signs and symptoms that could indicate to family caregivers that their loved one has Alzheimer's. For instance, memory problems that disrupt daily life or confusion with time and place are tell-tale symptoms.