How close is the link between hearing loss and dementia?
New evidence suggesting that addressing hearing loss could reduce the risk of early-onset dementia has emerged, following two new studies that have demonstrated a possible connection between hearing loss and dementia.
Identified as the number one modifiable risk factor contributing to dementia in a study authored by the Lancet commissions on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care, the research proposes that effective treatment for hearing loss may reduce the risk of dementia by nine percent.
Whilst it has been suspected that a possible connection may exist between the two, the new findings support the theory that actively wearing aids to help encourage social interaction can potentially delay cognitive decline.
This was backed by further research published in 2018 confirming strong links between hearing status and the risk of disability, dementia, and depression in older adults, which found that untreated hearing loss can increase the risk of developing dementia by 21 percent.
Oticon, a specialist in the development of innovative hearing aids, highlighted that whilst most people associate hearing with their ears, better hearing starts in an individual’s brain.
Pointing out that the brain manages sound and converts it into information that is comprehendible, the hearing experts emphasised that hearing loss makes this process more demanding; especially in noisy environments that can complicate the soundscape.
According to Oticon, hearing loss puts extra load on the brain as it works harder to ‘understand’, and without effective management, can make a person feel tired, disengaged, even unmotivated.
As well as making the brain work harder, the company says that people who are hard of hearing often find social engagement challenging because of the side effects of the effort to hear and understand speech.
“Hearing loss is a health condition which affects over five percent of the global population,” says Thomas Behrens, Chief Audiologist at Oticon.
“Sadly, many are living with their hearing loss completely unaware of the adverse effects that it could be having on their overall health. Socialising at family dinners, and on nights out with friends, is a great way to exercise the brain and could help reduce the risk of cognitive conditions, including dementia, especially in later life. Hearing well not only makes interaction possible but also more enjoyable.”
Aids to address hearing loss, such as Oticon’s innovative Opn, can be key to addressing many of these issues, helping people with a hearing impairment communicate and actively participate in social activities.