Hearing Aids for People with Alzheimer's - Correlation vs Cause

Carole Larkin - February 24, 2014 10:22 AM

Because there is now more emphasis on awareness of Alzheimer’s and emphasis on reducing the stigma, I am becoming increasingly perturbed at those individuals and businesses who are using the fear of Alzheimer’s as a marketing tool to sell their products. It is a way to promote the stigma of the disease rather than a way to promote acceptance of the disease as a current fact of life.

Here’s an example. Two weeks ago I attended an educational seminar entitled “Hearing and Cognitive Health” presented by an (unnamed) company that sells hearing aids. Their half page ad in the local newspaper includes these words,

“In light of the recent widely reported study that reveals a link between hearing loss and an increased risk of developing symptoms of dementia (the name of the company) is hosting this special informational seminar.”

The study they refer to is “Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline” published on February 25, 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine edition.

The link to the abstract on the study is http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23337978.

The researchers in the study concluded the following:

“Hearing loss is independently associated with accelerated cognitive decline and incident cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older adults. Further studies are needed to investigate what the mechanistic basis of this association is and whether hearing rehabilitative interventions could affect cognitive decline.”

My reading of the conclusions of the study tells me that the “correlation” has yet to be established especially in relation to whether hearing aids could positively affect the speed and trajectory of the decline in faculties of those with Alzheimer’s. In other words, more investigation needs to be done to confirm whether hearing aids help or prevent getting Alzheimer’s disease.

Yet, this company, and perhaps others, is using this research to “scare” people into buying hearing aids to prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

I listened carefully to the “seminar” and during it the presenters used the word “correlation” to describe the connection between developing Alzheimer’s and hearing loss. Yet they also used the word “cause” in their presentation, as if “correlation” and “cause” meant the same thing. They also implied that using hearing aids could slow the disease progression in those who already had Alzheimer’s.

We do know that hearing loss (as well as poor vision and other sensory deficits) exacerbate the symptoms of dementia by making connection to and interpretation of the person’s environment more difficult.

But to claim that hearing loss causes dementia? I think that claim pushes the envelope too far. I dislike the use of fear of Alzheimer’s and related diseases to sell “product”.  Consumers please be informed before making choices.

Click here to read Carole Larkin’s blog, “Caring Consciously with a Medical Power of Attorney.”

Carole Larkin  MA, CMC, CAEd, DCP, QDCS, EICS is a nationally known expert in Alzheimer’s and related Dementias care. She is a Certified Geriatric Care Manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She consults with families on the telephone and in person, on family problems related to the dementias. She trains caregivers in person and via video. One of her training videos is on You Tube. Other videos are on the videos page of her company’s website: www.thirdageservices.com.

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