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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

New Study Suggests Memory Loss Could be Linked to Hearing Problems, Not Alzheimer’s

Findings of a new study suggest that older adults being evaluated for memory and cognitive issues including Alzheimer's disease should also get a hearing test. After examining patients between 41 and 88 years old at Baycrest's neuropsychology clinic, researchers found that majority had mild to severe hearing loss but only about 20 percent used hearing aids

Hearing loss, the third most common chronic health condition in older adults, has been linked with cognitive issues. This study makes a case for addressing hearing loss, which often seems like a memory issue in this patient population.

When asked about the motivation behind the study, lead author Kate Dupuis, PhD, explained that the research team has been well aware of the growing literature highlighting the key role of hearing loss in the development of dementia. In fact, members of the team were studying the connection between hearing loss and cognition in individuals living with mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

"Of particular interest was how/whether the neuropsychologists at Baycrest Health Sciences were taking hearing loss into account when working with their clients," Dr. Dupuis told The Hearing Journal.

"The Hearing Services team had previously conducted an analogous study in which they investigated how aware audiologists were of a client's cognitive status, and whether they considered conditions such as memory loss or attentional difficulties when recommending interventions. This research project capitalized on the close existing relationship between Baycrest Hearing Services and the hospital's Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health program."

Admittedly, hearing status is not always addressed in neuropsychology evaluations, noted study co-author Susan Vandermorris, PhD, in a press release. In the study, the neuropsychologists were not aware of the participants' hearing test results at the initial assessment and later modified their clinical recommendations to address hearing concerns.

Recognizing hearing loss as a modifiable risk factor for dementia, Dr. Dupuis stressed the role of interdisciplinary health care teams in promoting awareness and management of hearing-related issues among older adults.

"Neuropsychologists and physicians can improve patient care by including standardized questions about hearing loss and hearing care into their interview/assessment techniques with all older clients," she noted. "It may be particularly important to also ask questions of the loved ones/caregivers who accompany the clients, as there can often be a high level of denial on the part of the clients about the existence of hearing loss. Educational materials about the strong connection between hearing loss and brain health should be provided, and recommendations and/or referrals for hearing assessment should be made as part of standard practice when working with an older population."