Question: My father is in the mild stages of Alzheimer’s disease and I don’t know if getting him hearing aids is of any value. What are my considerations and what will hearing aids do to help his declining situation?
Answer: Recent studies have shown that the prevalence of hearing loss in patients with Alzheimer’s disease is equal to that of the general population. The current treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia centers on medical care and the patient’s quality of life. We all recognize that a substantial part of life’s activities are related to the sense of hearing. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, good hearing has been proven to produce healthier seniors and reduce memory loss and the potential for dementia. This is most likely because hearing is our primary form of communication and it allows us to maintain our interpersonal relationships, reduce communication stress, and maintain appropriate electrical activity in the brain. For these and other reasons, all patients suspected of having memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, or hearing loss should have a hearing screening test. If a hearing loss is identified, hearing aids should be fitted at the earliest possible opportunity.
As misunderstanding and communication failure becomes more frequent, inter-personal relationships become more difficult and stressed. In the clinical setting, Audiologists will frequently see a husband and wife at odds over hearing related complaints. In many of these cases, hearing loss results in personal isolation, arguments, isolation and loneliness, and depression. The fact that a patient has Alzheimer’s disease is not a sign that hearing aids will not help, in fact, this is a sign that improved hearing is needed.
Until the patient rejects the use of hearing aids and becomes non-communicative that removing amplification should even be considered, if at all. In some cases, depending upon the stage of dementia, a single hearing aid or the use of a personal listening device (PLD) may be preferred.
The use of hearing aids fitted to one or both ears (both preferred) can be beneficial, especially in the mild and moderate stages of the disease. Your Audiologist will help you select the actual amplifier and necessary electronic features to meet your dad’s needs. In some cases, your Audiologist will recommend the use of a personal listening device (PLD) such as the Listenor, Comport Contego, or the Sennheizer Audioport A200 products. These can be used instead of or in addition to hearing aids. PLD’s are easy to use and can be worn at home or in a facility when hearing aids are not appropriate or convenient.
When purchasing hearing aids for someone who has Alzheimer’s, the most expensive hearing aids will not dramatically change how the brain functions and are not recommended. As a matter of fact, the simpler the hearing aids the more reasonable the treatment. The Hearing Guy generally recommends, for his patients, digital hearing aids that are half-shell or in-the-ear (HS or ITE) sizes so they are not too small for the patient or caregivers to handle or loose. The hearing aids do not need a volume control, but should include a memory push button if the patient prefers selecting and setting their own hearing, especially for irritating noise situations such as a restaurant. Since hearing aids are digital, the sound loudness can be set to function automatically requiring little or no activity from the patient when self-adjustment is just too difficult. The hearing aids should include adaptive directional microphones to provide some degree of noise reduction and an automatic telephone pick-up (t-coil) to work with the telephone, although a speakerphone is often the better choice. All modern hearing aids come with feedback cancellation to reduce or avoid annoying squealing or whistling sounds from the amplifier. The ear mold and coupling must be designed to keep the hearing aids in place, but also present the sound to the ear canal appropriately. Most hearing aid failures are a result of improper fit or programming. Appropriate hearing aids are available in the mid price range as top of the line hearing aids for Products over-saturated heavy-feeling apply.
See the section on Hearing Aids to get the real scoop on what you should know about the latest electronic options and providers.
Matching hearing aids to a patient with Alzheimer’s disease is easily done in the earlier stages of the process. Once the disease has progressed to the severe stages, hearing aids may not be very effective as some patient’s reject their use, your dad may not. When possible and in addition to hearing aids, TV and telephone amplifiers should be used to keep your dad in contact with the outside world.
Alzheimer’s disease sight relaxed mental activity as a contributor to the disease. Keeping sound vibrant and continuous is important and for this reason Music and Sound Therapy can be beneficial to reduce isolation and increase awareness. The final word is that hearing devices are a necessity for anyone with Alzheimer’s disease or memory loss and hearing loss. Your dad will benefit greatly from their use by keeping him engaged with you, your family, and his environment.