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Alzheimer's Disease

Deafness and Alzheimers Disease

09/10/2001

Question:

I work with the deaf and find that many are not exposed to the concept of language until age 4 - 8. They are playing a game of catch up their full life. Is there a higher incidence, based on this question, of Alzheimer's in the deaf population?

Answer:

You raise a very interesting question regarding the incidence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in the deaf population, one that is difficult to answer. None of our experts here are aware that this question has been studied. Likewise, in conducting a brief literature review, we were unable to find any studies. From a purely theoretical and speculative approach to your question, two issues come to mind. First, there is no reason to expect that the incidence of AD in the deaf population would be any different from the general population, so that the same risk factors known to date for AD such as family history, head injury, and vascular disease would hold. The specific etiology leading to hearing impairment may serve as risk factors if it involved neurological damage or head injury. Regarding the issue of exposure to language, research has only recently started to explore the relationship between childhood and pre-morbid abilities as possible risk factors or protective factors for Alzheimer's disease. For example, does more education or better verbal abilities in younger adulthood protect an individual from AD? Perhaps, but more research needs to be conducted. Does the delayed language development of deaf individuals serve as a risk for AD? We don't know. Perhaps the compensatory abilities the hearing impaired develop through knowledge of sign language and the enhanced use and development of other sensory modalities may actually serve as possible protective factors for the development of AD. This is an unknown area. I will forward your question on to some other colleagues and we will let you know if we learn any additional information. Thank you for raising this very interesting question. Thank you very much for writing to us. If you have other questions, please don't hesitate to contact us again.

Related Resources:

Memory and Cognition Center

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Response by:

Paula K Ogrocki, PhD Paula K Ogrocki, PhD
Assistant Professor of Neurology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University