What?!!!! Dementia and hearing loss.

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The WHO guidance issued this year advises that hearing loss is a prevalent age-related disorder.  It has debilitating consequences on social and emotional well-being and ability to communicate which can lead to isolation and loneliness.  It can almost double the risk of dementia.

Hearing loss is only one of the risk factors associated with dementia.  Most of the risk of dementia is something that you can’t change, but through making some changes in your life you can delay or reduce the some of the risk of dementia symptoms setting in.  How would you know if you’ve got hearing loss?  

People sometimes tell me that they are worried about someone starting to get cognitive impairment.

“My husband has difficulty understanding what I say.   When we’re with family he seems to zone out of the conversation.  He looks bored and sometimes says he is too tired to make small talk.  Half the time I wonder if he knows what is going on.  He has taken to avoiding company and tells me to go out on my own.”

This could be depression, which itself is associated with dementia, and may be confused with dementia.  It is an old-fashioned joke that husbands don’t listen to their wives.  The idea of “selective deafness” isn’t really funny, especially if something serious is underlying it.

“When I suggest to him that he should get his hearing tested, he makes a joke that I don’t speak loudly enough. He either says, “What?!!” in an exaggerated tone or he says, “You shouldn’t mutter.”  And ignores me.  I’ve noticed that he doesn’t like doing any business on the phone.  If it rings, he hands it to me to speak.”

Getting her husband to have a hearing check is difficult for this woman.

He has some of the classic signs of general hearing loss

  • Difficulty in hearing her, and misunderstanding what she says, and even giving up in a noisy environment like a family gathering
  • Needing things to be repeated
  • Difficulty in hearing on the phone
  • Feeling tired or stressed from having to concentrate while listening
  • Not enjoying and finding it hard to take part in conversation

Many of those things might happen when someone has mild cognitive impairment. Getting a hearing test is really important because you want to find out what is going on.  

This woman gave me one more important clue.  

When he has his music on, I have to move to the next room…it’s so loud.”

Treatment for hearing loss depends on what is causing it and whether it was sudden.  It could be a temporary problem like ear wax.  Any sudden change is worth taking to the GP.

There are several ways of getting your hearing tested if it is getting gradually worse.   The GP can make a referral to an audiologist, but if you can afford it, it might be quicker to find a high street outlet like a pharmacy or opticians that offers tests.  The test is often free, but you’ll probably have to pay for the treatment.  The good news is that if it is hearing impairment, correcting it can help make things better in respect of dementia risk.  

So, when your husband shouts “What?!!” it is not funny.  Get him tested.