HOW A SIMPLE HEARING TEST MIGHT PREVENT DEMENTIA

All posts by Paul Scigala

HOW A SIMPLE HEARING TEST MIGHT PREVENT DEMENTIA

 

Do you or anyone in the family:

  • Have the T.V turned up too loud?
  • Constantly ask people to repeat themselves?
  • Misunderstand conversations, saying yes when it should be no etc.
  • Hear people talking but can’t always make out what is said
  • Find it harder to hear in background noise, such as a car, restaurant, family gathering etc.
  • Watch peoples lips more closely so as to hear them better
  • Start to limit or avoid social activity or interaction.

Now there is a greater reason to get your hearing checked as researchers believe hearing loss is linked to dementia. Recent studies suggest that people who experience hearing loss could be more likely to develop dementia than those without. Evidence shows that mild hearing loss doubles the risk of dementia, with moderate hearing loss leading to three times the risk, and severe loss can increase the risk by up to 5 times! Having a problem with your hearing can accelerate the rate of cognitive decline by about 36%.

Typically, 90% of hearing loss is age related which is caused by the gradual and permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, which transmit signals to the brain. The symptoms of hearing loss can be similar to the early signs of dementia. For example, an individual can become confused about what is happening around them and struggle to follow a conversation. This can unfortunately make diagnosing dementia in someone with hearing loss or vice versa more difficult.

According to the latest research in The Lancet (which reviewed 13 studies linking the two conditions – hearing loss and dementia) up to a third of over 55s in the UK are thought to have some degree of hearing loss and this has been linked to one in ten cases of dementia.

Scientists claim that picking up a hearing loss in middle age and treating it could prevent as much as 9% of dementia cases, far more than the 2 % linked to high blood pressure and 1 % linked to obesity.

A further study is looking in to whether using hearing aids could help slow the disease or even prevent its progression. According to Dr. David Reynolds of the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK ‘hearing loss is a risk factor which we may be able to be modify to reduce the number of people who develop dementia or the rate of progression if they ‘ve already got it.’ Of course, one way to modify certain hearing losses is through the use of hearing aids.

Preventing hearing damage in the first place could also be extremely important, so wearing hearing protection for concerts, work, using power tools and keeping the volume down when wearing headphones may help over time.

There are a number of theories on how hearing loss is linked with dementia. One that corroborates this is that hearing loss causes individuals to become withdrawn and socially isolated. Social interaction stimulates the brain and helps to strengthen connection between brain cells which is essential for preventing dementia.

Another theory is that hearing loss physically damages part of the brain, leading to dementia. One study using brain scans showed that the brains auditory cortex (the area that processes sound), was smaller in patients with hearing loss than in those with normal hearing. Another suggests that hearing loss damages part of the brain that processes language, an area that is also known to shrink in dementia patients. Both shrinkage and a loss of brain cells is symptomatic of Alzheimer sufferers.

Professor Clive Ballard of age-related diseases at Exeter University (Who co-authored the study in the Lancet) says ‘If you are not using that part of the brain it could start to die off. The lack of stimulation might alter the way brain cells interact and cause atrophy – loss of brain cells.’

Hearing loss is emerging as a relatively new risk factor in dementia and a lot more is needed to understand more about the link. It is often difficult to separate the signs of hearing loss from dementia, and often one condition may mask another. However, one thing is clear – if someone has the signs of hearing loss or dementia then it is important to have regular hearing tests and where required, make the most of their hearing – for example, by using hearing aids.

Evidence suggests that proper diagnosis and management of hearing loss may reduce the risk of dementia and also its impact, more notably in the early stages. In particular, the latest evidence suggests that wearing hearing aids actually helps by improving working memory – the short-term memory that we use in completing everyday day to day tasks. Hearing aids can also help prevent some of the other associated risks and conditions with dementia such as depression and falls.

 

 

Posted in Sound Advice

Hearing Loss & Relationship Problems

Hearing loss has been shown to be associated with a wide range of other health problems, including depression, concentration difficulties, memory issues, and even dementia.  Recent evidence now adds ‘interpersonal communication’ breakdown to the ever growing list.

The link between hearing loss and problems between the affected person and those around them is not surprising to practicing audiologists. Recent research carried out at the University of Nottingham looked at the question in a systematic data-driven analysis and took into account more than 70 previous studies on the complaints made both by those with a hearing loss and those closest to them.

The results of the study were recently published in the journal ‘Trends in Hearing’. They show that hearing loss affects people’s social relationships in all facets of their lives. Lead study author and audiologist Venessa Vas, Ph.D. explains: “Oftentimes, both parties became depressed and socially withdrawn.” “The whole process is draining for spouses, as they often have to serve as another set of ears, answering the phone and translating conversations,” Vas adds.

Importantly, the emotional issues and deterioration of social relationships may go unnoticed for some time because they tend to intensify gradually. The couple may gradually withdraw from previous activities because of not being able to follow what’s being said without significant effort. This can lead to resentment between them and to increasing social isolation and more importantly this may lead to relationship problems.

Source: Consumer Reports; Vas V., et al. A Data-Driven Synthesis of Research Evidence for Domains of Hearing Loss, as Reported by Adults With Hearing Loss and Their Communication Partners. Trends in Hearing. 2017 Jan-Dec;21:2331216517734088.

Posted in Sound Advice

How spider silk could be used to make hearing aids better!

Researchers at Binghamton University, New York, have found that spider silk improves the quality of microphones for hearing aids & other technologies.  Binghamton University professor Ronald Miles and graduate student Jian Zhou have published a study titled “Sensing fluctuating airflow with spider silk” that should lead to better microphones for hearing aids than traditional pressure-based systems.

The research shows that ultra-sensitive spider silk can pick up the velocity of air instead of just its pressure. Because it is so thin, it moves with the air when hit by soundwaves, receiving infrasound at frequencies as low as just 3 Hz! The spider silk could be so good for hearing that spiders use it, when spun into webs, for listening to what is taking place around them.

The Binghamton researchers have found a way to translate this ability to pick up the direction of airflow into an electronic signal that can be used in microphones. This involves coating the spider silk with gold, and then placing it in a magnetic field to obtain an electronic signal — thereby making it into a makeshift microphone that can operate across an impressive range of frequencies. “It’s actually a fairly simple way to make an extremely effective microphone that has better directional capabilities across a wide range of frequencies,” explained Ronald Miles, professor in Binghampton’s department of mechanical engineering.

“Most insects actually hear with their hairs”

Today’s miniature directional microphones aren’t as good as they could be because their response varies strongly with frequency. They tend to lose low-frequency sounds and respond mostly to very high-frequency sounds. This new technology will enable the creation of directional microphones that have audiophile quality.

Miles has done several studies looking at what we can learn from insects when it comes to hearing. He explained, “We use our eardrums, which pick up the direction of sound based on pressure, but most insects actually hear with their hairs.” The spider silk can pick up the velocity of the air instead of the pressure of the air.

While it’s still a work in progress, the researchers have already built prototypes and made recordings to show that their web-based technology works effectively. According to Miles, the tech could be incorporated into any system that uses small microphones, such as hearing aids, cell phones, and computers. The study used spider silk, but any fibre that is thin enough could be used in the same way.

Source: Jian Zhou el al., “Sensing fluctuating airflow with spider silk,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017), Digitaltrends.com

Posted in Sound Advice

Using your iPad or iPhone with hearing loss

Did you know that Apple Stores are introducing ‘Today At Apple‘ sessions.  These are FREE in store training sessions on how you can use your iPad or iPhone with hearing loss.  There are many hearing aid products nowadays that are Apple compatible.

For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, iOS 10 offers amazing assistive technologies to help you communicate and enjoy more content. The sessions will introduce you to iPad and iPhone settings including Software TTY (where available), voicemail transcription, and Phone Noise Cancellation. We’ll show you how to access features like FaceTime, LED Flash for Alerts, and vibrating alerts that you can use every day.  To find out more contact your local store or visit http://apple.com/uk/today/ and search your local store to find the next available session.  Please note though, you do need to book your session as places are limited, so they are run on a first come-first served basis.

The next available session in the Norwich area is https://www.apple.com/uk/today/event/using-ipad-and-iphone-with-hearing-loss-basics-6321618815344292485/

Wednesday 25 October
4:00 pm – 5:00 Merchants Hall
Chapelfield
Norwich, NR2 1SH

Posted in Sound Advice