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Can hearing loss lead to cognitive decline?

Did you know that leaving hearing loss untreated can increase the risk of dementia? That’s according to several studies over the years. In this article, we look at the key details in this research into hearing loss and dementia and explain why it is so important to have hearing loss tested and treated.

Difficulty hearing speech risk factor for dementia – another new study published 

Research has shown that assisting hearing difficulties in mid life could help a person maintain their brain function as they get older and might also reduce their risk of dementia. Published on 21st July, a new study led by University of Oxford researchers on over 82,000 participants has shown that difficulty hearing spoken conversations is associated with up to 91% increased risk of dementia. This study was featured on the Today programme. If anyone is interested in catching up on the story here is a link – skip forward to 2hrs55 mins (last 5 minutes of the show).

The link between ageing, hearing loss and dementia

In April 2019, the Ear Foundation, an independent charity based in Nottingham which supports people of all ages with hearing loss, unearthed some of the most compelling findings related to the link between hearing loss and dementia. It concluded that ageing had led to growing numbers of people with hearing loss and cognitive decline. It was found that some 60 per cent of adults who have dementia also experience hearing impairment. They also discovered that more than 90 per cent of adults with dementia who live in “aged care” also have a hearing impairment.

The Ear Foundation highlighted that hearing loss has been linked to impaired communication and in turn, social isolation and loneliness, which can be health threatening. Their report underlined the importance of health systems to invest in tackling hearing loss, in order to help people maintain the “social connectedness” which can be so vital to brain health.

A key factor

While there does appear to be an undoubted link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, as a report in the Practical Neurology online journal pointed out: “It has not been proven that cognitive impairment (including dementia) is caused by hearing loss or that cognitive impairment causes hearing decline.”

The publication highlighted several shared underlying mechanisms behind hearing loss and cognitive decline, which are; overdiagnosis, widespread neural degeneration, sensory degradation or deprivation, cognitive resource allocation and depletion, and social isolation and depression.

Is hearing loss a crucial clue?

Hearing aids could cut the risk of dementia

Another thorough body of work was a study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the United States. Its research – conducted over a ten-year period – also supports the theory that hearing loss is associated with a larger risk of cognitive decline. The investigators suggested that “hearing loss may help identify individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and might provide insights for earlier intervention and prevention,” making it clear that regular tests with an audiologist and the timely provision of hearing aids could be a way of cutting the risk of dementia.

The value of a hearing aid

In July 2019 the Times reported a study which concluded that wearing a hearing aid later in life could protect you against dementia, as well as slow brain ageing. The research found that people who wore hearing aids, primarily to address hearing issues, also saw their cognitive functions more effectively maintained. The impact measured was amazing – this study found that those who wore hearing aids had brains which performed eight years younger on average

The raft of various studies has found that, at best, there is a huge potential for a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Now the onus is on health systems, as well as the public, to ensure that timely hearing tests are carried out as a matter of course.

Hearing loss and cognitive decline – where to find out more

The experts seem to agree that treating hearing loss provides protection against gradual cognitive decline. If you are beginning to find it difficult to hear in certain situations, don’t allow it to get worse, book an appointment for a hearing test and consultation with one of our audiologists. We provide comprehensive testing using state-of-the-art technology, personalised treatment and ongoing support.

Read our article “What to expect at a hearing assessment” to find out what’s involved.

Or please fill in our online contact form to book a hearing assessment.

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