Hearing loss and Alzheimer’s: Fox TV Investigates The Potential link Between Them

WFLD Fox 32’s Scott Schneider discusses the link between hearing loss and Alzheimer’s Disease with Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri.

Scott: Right. Well, nearly 48 million Americans report suffering some level of hearing loss. Now a lot of folks, they write it off as part of the aging process, but now thanks to a number of studies, a link has been discovered between hearing loss, and both Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. There is some good news though. Hearing aid technology just getting better, and we’re going to talk a little bit about that with Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri, the Founder of the MDHearingAid. Good afternoon. Thanks for being here.

Sreekant: Thanks for having me.

Scott: All right. I was doing some research on this, and when we talk about the prevalence of hearing loss, I was surprised, and maybe even a little, I guess, somewhat nervous thinking of my life down the road, because of these links. Let’s talk a little bit about that first. What have we discovered about hearing loss and these cognitive disorders?

Sreekant: There’s a growing body of evidence that’s linking untreated hearing loss with cognitive decline. There has not been yet a direct causal relationship, but there have been a number of studies that have shown that people with untreated hearing loss, even mild hearing loss, has a doubling the risk of getting Dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Scott: Okay, and that said, I gave you some numbers. I’ve read as much as 20% of our nation, perhaps, could potentially be suffering some sort of hearing loss. We’re talking about this impacting a lot of people.

Sreekant: That’s right. About 48 million people, as you eluded to, have some level of hearing loss, but in terms of the people that need hearing aid, that number is significant, as well. That could be as high as 28 million million people.

Scott: I want to get that in a second. Let’s talk a little bit about these different levels. There can be mild impairment, but Doctor, in some cases, people may not know that they’re suffering hearing loss. Is that accurate?

Sreekant: That’s correct, yeah. Hearing loss typically is very gradual in it’s onset, and the human brain is able to accommodate for difficulties in hearing with context clues, and things like that. Lip reading. People may have hearing loss, not-

Scott: Not even realize it, because your brain is compensating for it-

Sreekant: Absolutely.

Scott: You’re not conscious of what is happening. Are there things we can do to sort of test ourselves to determine whether or not we may be suffering some level of hearing loss?

Sreekant: Based on the numbers you just presented, hearing loss is very prevalent. Especially in the people over 60. Medicare actually recommends a hearing evaluation as a baseline welcome to Medicare examination-

Scott: Okay.

Sreekant: Many practitioners don’t follow that principle, unfortunately. The best test or the gold standard test is a hearing test in a soundproof booth, which an Audiologist or an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor can provide.

Scott: I think we’ve all been through that. I remember it in school, where you put the headphones on and the noise, and you kind of point your … You raise a finger if you can hear it. That kind of that. Is that what we’re talking about?

Sreekant: That’s exactly right, but that has challenges with cost as well as geographic access. Nowadays, you can do very, very good hearing screenings, even from the comfort of your home, which I recommend all people should be doing.

Scott: All right. I want to get back to how this might impact us on a cognitive level in a minute, but do me a favor, talk to me a little bit about the hearing aid, and how it can help improve our situation, our quality of life?

Sreekant: Absolutely, yeah. When we hear, the sound travels from the ear into the ear canal, through the eardrum-

Scott: Yeah, I’m going to angle this a little bit. Keep going.

Sreekant: Yeah, and into the inner ear. That sound then goes to the brain, and-

Scott: Right.

Sreekant: The brain processes what we hear. When we don’t hear, that part of the brain is not being stimulated-

Scott: That’s what I was going to get to, yeah, so that’s the rub, isn’t it?

Sreekant: That’s exactly right. It’s just like muscle atrophy. Use it or lose it. When a lot of your brain is not functioning to hear and listen and understand, then it starts to atrophy or get weak. Consequently, things such as effortful listening, like if we have to really pay attention to hear, when we’re not treating our hearing loss-

Scott: Right.

Sreekant: Other resources are robbed from other parts of the brain, such as memory and things like that. There have been studies that showed people with hearing loss perform poor on memory tests.

Scott: Isn’t that fascinating? All right. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the technology that is available, including this hearing aid. Again, I’m going to angle this. What am I looking at here, Doctor?

Sreekant: Typically, hearing aids are very … Kind of like glasses, right? They compensate for a-

Scott: Sure.

Sreekant: Loss and a function. However, they’re very expensive. Between $2,000 and $5,000 each, and they don’t get coverage from Medicare and most insurances. Nowadays though there are direct to consumer hearing aids, such as the MD Hearing Aid line, that are much less expensive on the order of hundreds of dollars, shipped directly to their home.

Scott: I had to cut you off. How effective are they?

Sreekant: They’re very effective. The last thing I’d like to say is that the free hearing screening can be done from your home if you go to our website mdhearingaid.com. You can get a free hearing screening using your telephone.

Scott: That’s going to be the last word. Dr. Sreekant Cherukuri, thanks very much. Fascinating.