Hearing and remembering: How hearing aids reduce hearing loss and dementia
Those who struggle with hearing loss and do not wear hearing aids have a 42% higher risk of dementia, new study finds.
The link between hearing aids and dementia has been researched for decades, but researchers have recently found that the connection between the two might be stronger than previously discovered.
By 2050, research shows that dementia will affect 150 million people worldwide.
The Lancet Public Health published a study Thursday that supports the idea that hearing loss is a leading factor in dementia.
“The evidence is building that hearing loss may be the most impactful modifiable risk factor for dementia in mid-life, but the effectiveness of hearing aid use on reducing the risk of dementia in the real world has remained unclear,” said Professor Dongshan Zhu, of Shandong University, China, who worked on the study.
“Our study provides the best evidence to date to suggest that hearing aids could be a minimally invasive, cost-effective treatment to mitigate the potential impact of hearing loss on dementia.”
The study gathered data from 437,704 individuals from the UK Biobank, with an average age of 56, who were followed up after twelve years of studying. The research included multiple factors including depression, loneliness, and isolation.
“The paper also explores some of the possible reasons for how hearing aids may work, tending to (favor) the idea that they are effective because they reduce the cognitive effort involved in hearing and/or they reduce the effects of sensory deprivation if you can’t hear,” Tom Dening, a professor of dementia research at the University of Nottingham, who was not involved in the study, told CNN.
Dening recently began wearing hearing aids and hopes that the study will encourage others to look into improving their hearing for their overall health, according to CNN. “We need to use studies like this to encourage the public not to be embarrassed by hearing problems,” he said, “and to seek assessment and treatment sooner rather than later.”
The study found that those who used hearing aids were equally as likely to get diagnosed with dementia as someone who has perfect hearing. Those who do not use hearing aids had a 42% higher risk of dementia.
“Close to four-fifths of people experiencing hearing loss do not use hearing aids in the UK,” said Zhu. “Hearing loss may begin early in one’s 40s, and there is evidence that gradual cognitive decline before a dementia diagnosis can last 20 to 25 years.”
People who are not using hearing aids to improve their hearing have a 1.7% higher risk of dementia than the 1.2% risk for those who use hearing aids or have good hearing.
“The underlying pathways which may link hearing aid use and reduced dementia risk are unclear,” said Fan Jiang, lead author of the study, to New Atlas. “Further research is needed to establish a causal relationship and the presence of underlying pathways.”