Could Hearing Loss and Dementia Be Connected?

From a New York Times Health Interview

Interview by 

Published: February 11, 2013
Pam Belluck is a health and science writer for The New York Times.

Pam Belluck is a health and science writer for The New York Times.

PAM BELLUCK: I’m Pam Belluck, I’m a health and science writer for The New York Times. And this week, I am interviewing Katherine Bouton, who has been a long time editor for The New York Times and it now a contributing writer to our science section. And she has written a book called, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You.” And it’s a look into her own personal journey with hearing loss and a look into the research behind hearing loss. Katherine has written a piece that looks at a very interesting and surprising connection that some scientists have found between hearing loss and dementia. Katherine, first of all, welcome to the podcast, thank you for joining us.

KATHERINE BOUTON: Thank you very much.

MS. BELLUCK: And why don’t you tell us a little bit about what the scientists have found here.

MS. BOUTON: In studies over about the past…beginning in 2011 and continuing now—a new study was just published last month—is that there seems to be a strong association between hearing loss and both the earlier onset and more serious degree of dementia even with milder hearing loss, but especially with very severe hearing loss. For somebody like me who has a hearing aid and a cochlear implant but I still don’t hear very , this is alarming news.

MS. BELLUCK: All they have found at the moment is what’s called an association. So we don’t have any kind of causal connection—either that dementia either causing hearing loss or vice versa. But they do have three interesting theories about what could be happening. Could you lay those out for us?

MS. BOUTON: Okay, I should mention that the primary researcher on this is Frank Lin, who is at Hopkins and his database are two or three different long-term epidemiological studies. The first was based on the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. I went to see him after that first study was published and he had three things to offer.

The first made a lot of sense. It was that people with hearing loss tend to isolate themselves and isolation is a risk factor for dementia whether you’re hearing or hearing-impaired.

The second is something that he calls cognitive load — and which I call cognitive overload. What happens is that when you aren’t hearing very well, even with corrected hearing you’re trying so hard to hear the person that it makes it very hard to actually listen to what the person is saying. It’s very hard to absorb the information. When I did my interviews for this book – and I did a lot — I taped all of my interviews and I had someone else transcribe them because I couldn’t hear the tapes. I went and I got my transcriptions back I was constantly surprised by what I had asked, what I had heard, what they had answered. Every interview was like doing the whole thing fresh twice over.

The third possible explanation is the one that is most alarming and it’s the one that scientists like Dr. Lin and others are beginning to look at, and that’s that there’s an underlying pathological mechanism that has an influence on both hearing loss and dementia. It could be something environmental. It could be something genetic. They just don’t know.

These studies so far have relied on self-reported use of hearing aids. The next study that Dr. Lin is doing — he’s submitted a grant application now — is to specifically study how hearings aids are used, how often they are used, how carefully they were fitted, how much continual contact with the audiologist there is, whether the hearing-impaired person uses any assistive technology in addition to the hearing aids or the cochlear implant.

MS. BELLUCK: I’m interested in what you’re saying about corrected hearing. You are somebody wearing a hearing aid and a cochlear implant and according to the research that would not necessarily make a difference here. According to his research so far, people who are wearing hearing aids — it didn’t protect them from getting dementia. So does that tend to suggest some support for this idea that there being this underlying biological mechanism that might cause both?

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Neurology Study: One Week of Therapy May Help Reorganize Brain, Reduce Stuttering

MINNEAPOLIS – Just one week of speech therapy may reorganize the brain, helping to reduce stuttering, according to a study published in the August 8, 2012, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The Chinese study gives researchers new insights into the role of different brain regions in stuttering, which affects about one percent of adults.

The study involved 28 people with stuttering and 13 people who did not stutter. Fifteen of the people with stuttering received a week of therapy with three sessions per day. The other stutterers and the controls received no therapy. Therapy involved the participants repeating two-syllable words that were spoken to them and then reading words presented to them visually. There was no time limit in either task. The average scores on stuttering tests and percent of stuttered syllables improved for those who received the therapy. There was no change in scores for the stutterers who did not receive therapy.

Brain scans were used to measure the thickness of the cerebral cortex in the brain for all participants at the beginning and end of the study. READ MORE:

 

Dr. Sean Milligan, Neurologist

One of the specialties at Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic is Neurology. The Neurology team is lead by Dr. Sean Milligan.

An example of a disease a neurologist would treat is Carpal Tunnel and the test used is a nerve conduction study. Watch as Dr. Milligan demonstrates a nerve conduction study in this video:

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Other reasons you might need to see a neurologist are:

  • Parkinson’s Disease

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Dimentia

  • Neuropathy

  • Migraine Headaches

  • Epilepsy