Hearing should always be a consideration when measuring someone’s cognitive ability. Even an element of hearing loss can add to memory and cognitive challenges and a hearing solution may well alleviate some of the symptoms.
There is much discussion in the media about the connection between dementia and hearing loss. Research has shown that amongst certain types of dementia, hearing loss is one of the main lifestyle factors that is shown to have a bearing. Our interest, however, is more rudimentary than that. We regularly meet people who have signs of early dementia but these early signs could very easily be, and often are the same as, those of untreated hearing loss. When we use the term ‘untreated hearing loss’ we are referring to a hearing loss that is present but not necessarily acknowledged or treated with hearing aids.
Below are examples of early signs of possible dementia from the Young Dementia Organization. However, it can be demonstrated that an unacknowledged hearing loss may well have very similar symptoms.
Memory loss that disrupts everyday life is one of the early symptoms of dementia, but even memory loss could be confused with regular mishearing. If a person starts to miss those little asides and general conversations about what is happening that day, that week, they soon become out of touch with what is happening. They don’t fully take things on-board – which could be read as forgetfulness – ‘I’ve told you this already – don’t you remember’ – We start to plant the idea that memory is an issue. Memory is judged by people forgetting recently learned information – if you have not been following everyday chit chat you may not fully be aware what is happening that day/ that week.
Asking for the same information over and over again – well, extra clarification is needed when we don’t quite hear what is going on.
Gradually relying more and more on family members to organise you because it is easier than trying to make arrangements yourself – it could be dementia but equally, if you can’t hear you would need to rely on others to organise you.
Vacancy – this is a common feature of early stage dementia but it must be remembered that listening with any degree of impairment becomes an exhausting activity. The tendency can be to shut off – the person can become vacant – not surprising when listening is such an effort.
Losing confidence – Dementia can make a person hang back and not have the confidence they used to, but again, if listening effort is tough – you stop listening. What does that do to your everyday confidence and ability to plan and solve problems?
Lack of concentration – When you have untreated hearing loss the level of concentration required just to follow a basic conversation is significant – so after a few hours of this every day – fatigue kicks in and concentration goes out the window!
Confusion with time or place – again a common symptom for dementia, getting appointments wrong is hardly surprising if hearing is less than perfect.
Trouble joining in a conversation – a sign of dementia but a very obvious consequence of hearing loss.
Decreased or poor judgement and/or changes in mood and personality – often hearing loss can cause people to feel misunderstood and cross, or that they are always on the wrong end of the conversation. This, in time, can cause resentment and lead to decreased and poor judgement. They can become confused, suspicious, aggressive, depressed, fearful or anxious.
Withdrawal from work or social activities – a very common consequence of hearing loss and early stage dementia.