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Mom has been hard of hearing for years, and she has never been a good listener, but lately it's been a little different. Sometimes her responses are incoherent. Sometimes I'll say something and she'll stare blankly at me as if I just asked her "What's 371 divided by 13?" before responding. Sometimes I'll speak at a normal tone of voice and she'll understand from across the room. A while ago I was sitting across the table and said, in a normal tone of voice, "Take your pills, Mom," and it was as if I didn't say anything. I know her hearing isn't that bad. (And she has no problem with taking her pills.)


Is it possible for cognitive decline to cause hearing loss or comprehension problems that seem like hearing loss? Is there a way I can test this through observation?

Yes, yes, yes! This is a fact that you will find in the medical literature with a little searching. (Of course true dementia and hearing loss do occur together, as well.) It seems hard for us to believe that someone wouldn't just say "what?" when they don't hear you but I think over time people give up since they're so used to not hearing what's going on and being a part of it. The saddest thing, and frankly it's a crime, is that insurance doesn't usually cover hearing aids, and most people can't afford them. Is this not a medical condition? Of course it is! I hope this changes in the future.
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Reply to dldykstra
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It takes a while for them to process and comprehend. What you are describing is the progression of the Dementia. Which can also cause hearing loss and eye problems too. They go into their own little world too. Like a little kid. They get engrossed in a TV show or playing they don't hear you.

Not sure if you can "test" it. One day she could be with it and the next day not. One moment she could be with it the next ...

Dementia is a progressive Disease. My Mom had changes every month. Some decline faster than others.
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Lymie61 Feb 21, 2019
I think the hearing loss has been a well known problem for this person for a long time so while hearing loss and dementia may be related it doesn't sound like dementia is the main cause of hearing loss in this instance though hearing loss may be contributing to the behaviors that look like dementia as well as any actual developing dementia.
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I don't have dementia but I do have significant hearing loss. Right now I am unable financially to get hearing aids. I find that if I am busy and don't hear one of my adult children say something it helps to get my attention if they say "MOM!" first before they start talking. Then I know they are not talking to someone else and they expect me to listen and respond. A small thing perhaps but sometimes phrasing can help a lot.
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20Eagle16 Feb 22, 2019
That is a good technique, dazednconfused. I used it a lot with my mom. If you are having trouble with the cost of hearing aids, there are organizations that help provide same at a very low cost. For example, I just donated my mom's hearing aid, so that others might benefit. You might find some help. I would not put off getting hearing aids. Yes, they are horribly expensive...in some cases. But, try your best to buy on credit if you have to. Hearing loss can impact you greatly later on. As I mentioned on this post, hearing loss has been shown to be a contributor to cognitive decline. Hang in there.
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You said she is afraid of getting dementia and you doubt you could get her to a audiologist. You could use her fear to get her hearing tested. Nothing ventured nothing gained so don’t assume she won’t go. Tell her you read a study that points to hearing loss as a factor in dementia and that it would be a good idea if you BOTH got your hearing tested as a preventive measure. Hearing tests are free by the way. Would you be willing to do that?
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Reply to Harpcat
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According to the audiologist where my husband was recently tested, loss of hearing can cause dementia.

Of course not every person who has dementia has hearing loss.

John Hopkins Dr Frank Lin says your odds increase of developing dementia with the degree of hearing loss. This from a 12 year study.

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-hidden-risks-of-hearing-loss
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Reply to 97yroldmom
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dazednconfused Feb 22, 2019
Just out of curiosity how or does this affect people deaf from birth. I don't really expect you to have an answer but my granddaughter (whom I've raised) is deaf from birth and so are many of her friends. I wonder if something else is in play with deafness/dementia?
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My mother is not hard of hearing but has advancing dementia. Sometimes she acts as if she doesn't hear me. I think she is often in her own world and is either incapable of responding and understanding or doesn't want to be bothered.
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Reply to NancyIS
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Yes, when I talked my late dad without having to look at me, he couldn’t hear me. However, he kept asking me with his frustration tone of his voice that he wanted me to look at him when I talk to him so he could comprehend what I was saying.

I am partly deaf since I was a baby due to my cerebral palsy. I can hear voices, but I need to read lips to understand the subjects. Even though I wear hearing aids, I don’t like using the phone because of my hearing loss.

Get your mom's attention before you speak. I find that elderly people who have dementia, with hearing difficulties or not, have a very low attention span to grasp the conversation.
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Reply to Madtoe
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JoAnn has the best answers!

My own DH is a brilliant man--like genius level smart, but to talk to him (or try to, I should say) you;d think he was "slow". He cannot hear, so by the time the original comment or question has been posed, you get the feeling he's not "all there".

I have heard and read that deafness can cause neural decline--you don't hear, you stop thinking and you don't "get" all of what is being said.

My kids all think dad is showing signs of dementia. He's not. He just can't hear.
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Reply to Midkid58
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I would get her seen by an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist to rule out any physical reasons, like excessive wax. Then I would get her hearing tested by a professional. That will help you understand if it is hearing loss or cognitive impairment, if she can't follow directions that is a pretty good sign she needs to see a neurologist for further testing.

Please don't assume that she has dementia, it will cause frustration for everyone because the real problem is being dismissed, if there is a problem.

Sometimes I don't hear everything because my head is stuffy or there is back ground noise that is interfering, I have no hearing loss, been checked by both the above to rule out treatable issues.

Good luck getting to the bottom of this.
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Reply to Isthisrealyreal
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NewandTrying Feb 20, 2019
No, I don't want to jump to the conclusion that this is dementia. I'm just trying to get an idea of what I'm dealing with so I know what to look for going forward. Mom has many age-related issues and readily admits it, but for some reason she is sensitive about her hearing and is terrified of getting dementia. That's why I would never in a million years be able to get her go to ENT doctor, and especially a neurologist.
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Aphasia = trouble pulling up the words you want when speaking. Receptive aphasia = trouble understanding the words and phrases others are saying, even when hearing is OK or using a hearing aid. Aphasia and receptive aphasia are common in dementia. Combined with any hearing loss, they have a serious negative impact on communication abilities.
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