Older adults concerned about displaying early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease should also consider a hearing check-up, suggest recent findings.

What might appear to be signs of memory loss could actually point to hearing issues, says Dr. Susan Vandermorris, one of the study’s authors and a clinical neuropsychologist at Baycrest.

A recent Baycrest study, published in the Canadian Journal on Aging, found that the majority (56 per cent) of participants being evaluated for memory and thinking concerns and potential brain disorders had some form of mild to severe hearing loss, but only about 20 per cent of individuals used hearing aids. Among the participants, a quarter of them did not show any signs of memory loss due to a brain disorder.

We commonly see clients who are worried about Alzheimer’s disease because their partner complains that they don’t seem to pay attention, they don’t seem to listen or they don’t remember what is said to them. Sometimes addressing hearing loss may mitigate or fix what looks like a memory issue. An individual isn’t going to remember something said to them if they didn’t hear it properly.
Dr. Vandermorris. 

This study builds on earlier research that analyzed how addressing memory problems could benefit older adults seeking hearing loss treatment.

We are starting to learn more about the important role hearing plays in the brain health of our aging population. In order to provide the best care to our older clients, it is imperative that neuropsychologists and hearing care professionals work together to address the common occurrence of both cognitive and hearing loss in individuals.
Dr. Kate Dupuis, lead author on the study, a former postdoctoral fellow at Baycrest, clinical neuropsychologist and Schlegel Innovation Leader at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research

Since the studies, Baycrest’s Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health Program and Hearing Services have incorporated general screening for hearing and memory issues into their assessments, as well as provided educational materials to clients.

Next steps for the study will involve optimizing screening strategies for hearing loss in memory assessments and ongoing interprofessional collaborations to create educational tools that counsel clients about the relationship between hearing, memory and brain health.

 

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