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The link between hearing loss and Alzheimer's

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LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - As we age, we face many different health challenges, and one of the most common - is hearing loss.

Dr. K. Morgan Sauer with St. Vincent says, "Our hearing is based on neuro fibers. These neuro fibers can take damage over time because they are so small. The slightest abnormality can cause significant problems."

The problems could be more wide ranging that first thought.  Researchers now believe older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, compared to those with normal hearing.

Sauer says, "For people who have hearing loss, it's like being in a crowded restaurant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week...so their brain can become completely exhausted trying to do this. If you don't use your brain, your brain will actually start to decline in its function."

A recent study in the Archives of Neurology looked at people who have hearing loss in varying degrees... mild, moderate and severe... and the risk for developing Alzheimer's.

"The risk for Alzheimer's actually increased by two, three and five fold in these individuals," adds Sauer.

He says researchers aren't exactly sure why there's a link... but he has an idea.

"We do believe that with hearing loss, there's social isolation and that can cause problems with memory," says Sauer.

If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, doctors say there's no need to panic.

This study is simply an excellent call for greater research and awareness.

Dr. Sauer says, "Papers like this aren't supposed to scare the public or aren't supposed to frighten people. It's an opportunity to say you know what, we need to pay more attention to this."