Hearing loss affects an estimated 48 million people across the country. Research over the years has uncovered strong correlations between hearing loss and other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety and even dementia. New research is showing exactly how hearing loss may contribute to the most common type of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease.
About the Study
A team of researchers at Newcastle University published research appearing in the journal Neuron that explores how an ear disorder can lead to Alzheimer’s disease for the very first time. This is a significant step that advances research on Alzheimer’s and how the disease may be prevented in the future.
Most experts agree that the hearing loss is linked with Alzheimer’s in one of three ways:
- An underlying cause contributes to both hearing loss and dementia.
- Lack of sound-related input leads to shrinkage of the brain.
- More of the brain’s resources must compensate for loss of hearing, leaving cognitive resources unavailable for other tasks, like memory.
Newcastle researchers instead propose a new angle, which focuses on memory centers deep within the temporal lobe. This part of the brain is typically associated with long-term memory for places and events, but may also be involved in short-term storage and interpretation of auditory information.
The New Theory
Researchers propose that changes in the brain caused by hearing loss may promote the presence of abnormal proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.
According to Professor Tim Griffiths, “The challenge has been to explain how a disorder of the ear can lead to a degenerative problem in the brain… We suggest a new theory based on how we use what is generally considered to be the memory system in the brain when we have difficulty listening in real-world environments.”
Dr. Will Sedley adds, “This memory system engaged in difficult listening is the most common site for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. We propose that altered activity in the memory system caused by hearing loss and the Alzheimer’s disease process trigger each other. Researchers now need to examine this mechanism in models of the pathological process to test if this new theory is right.” For more information about the connection between hearing loss and dementia or to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert, call Aaron’s Hearing Aid & Audiology Center today!