An older adult tries on a hearing aid as a woman looks on.

Senior living residents wondering whether they are experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may want to schedule a hearing examination to make sure the symptoms aren’t related to hearing loss instead, suggests a small study recently published in the Canadian Journal on Aging.

Researchers found that 56% of study participants who were being evaluated for memory and thinking concerns and potential brain disorders had some form of mild to severe hearing loss, but only approximately 20% used hearing aids. Among the participants, one-fourth 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,” said Susan Vandermorris, PhD., C.Psych., one of the study’s authors and a clinical neuropsychologist at Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care, Toronto. “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.”

And in those who have or are at risk of developing memory issues, addressing hearing loss may help, the study authors said.

“Since hearing loss has been identified as a leading, potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia, treating it may be one way people can reduce the risk,” said Marilyn Reed, another author on the study and a practice adviser with Baycrest’s audiology department. “People who can’t hear well have difficulty communicating and tend to withdraw from social activities as a way of coping. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, which can impact cognitive, physical and mental health.”

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