A young London scientist is embarking on a project to understand the causes of hearing problems in Alzheimer’s disease, thanks to an £88,000 grant from Alzheimer’s Research UK. It’s hoped the study, which is the one of the first of its kind, could improve diagnosis and lead to new ways of helping patients cope with their symptoms.
PhD student Hannah Golden, 24, is beginning a three-year project at UCL (University College London) to uncover how changes in the brain are linked to problems with hearing in Alzheimer’s disease. Many people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty making sense of what they hear – for example, losing the ability to follow conversations or being unable to recognise where sounds are coming from. These symptoms are often put down to memory loss, but researchers at UCL believe they could in fact be due to the disease affecting the part of the brain responsible for interpreting sound.
Using sophisticated brain scans and a range of psychological and hearing tests, the researchers will investigate the changes in the brain that occur as people hear different noises. By comparing people with Alzheimer’s, people with frontotemporal dementia and healthy people, they hope to pinpoint what changes in the brain are associated with hearing problems in Alzheimer’s.
The scientists believe these hearing difficulties could also be an early clue to the presence of Alzheimer’s, and it’s hoped that the knowledge gained from the study could help doctors to better diagnose the disease in future. By understanding what causes these symptoms, they also hope to develop new methods of managing them.
Ms Golden said:
“I’m eager to start work on this project, which I hope could make a real difference to people with Alzheimer’s disease. If we can understand why people with Alzheimer’s experience problems with hearing, we will be in a better position to help them cope with these symptoms.
“I was interested in this project because dementia is a huge problem for society. The statistics speak for themselves – there are nearly 64,000 people with dementia in Greater London alone, and I hope my research can have a positive impact.”
Her supervisor, Dr Jason Warren, said:
“We’re very pleased to have secured this funding, which will allow us to explore an area that has so far been poorly understood. Understanding what brain changes affect the hearing of people with Alzheimer’s may help us to detect the disease earlier – and our project should also help find better ways to distinguish between Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia.
“Research is the only answer for better dementia management, and I’m optimistic that our project could have real impact on people’s quality of life.”
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We are delighted to be supporting this research, which promises to answer some important questions about Alzheimer’s disease. A better understanding of the causes of hearing difficulties in Alzheimer’s could really help improve the lives of people with the disease in the future. This research is also a valuable reminder that memory loss is not the only symptom of Alzheimer’s.
“There are 820,000 people with dementia in the UK and with a rapidly ageing population that number is increasing. We urgently need to improve diagnosis and find new treatments, and research projects like this one are vital.”
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