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Hearing loss increases dementia risk by 28%

Tuesday 12th December 2017
More than one-quarter of people with hearing loss could be at risk of developing dementia five to ten years after their hearing starts to decline. Image credit: Rawpixel via iStock
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Hearing loss has been cited as a potential early sign of dementia in a new study, suggesting that intervention from audiologists in the form of hearing aids could possibly help to stop the onset of cognitive decline.

Research carried out by scientists at Trinity College Dublin saw 36 previous studies on hearing loss and dementia analysed to try to find clear links between the two conditions. Altogether, these papers involved more than 20,000 people, providing the scientists with a wide study base.

The team found that people who had hearing loss were on average 28 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia, which they believe may be linked to the decline in their hearing function affecting their ability to communicate with others. As a result, people can become socially isolated; when they are not being stimulated, cognitive decline and degenerative conditions such as dementia can begin to set in.

On average, the onset of dementia came between five and ten years after hearing function began to decline, meaning there is plenty of time for audiologists to intervene to make sure patients are getting the support they need.

The findings of the study therefore suggest that wearing a hearing aid could help to prevent the onset of dementia for some patients suffering from age-related hearing loss and could subsequently significantly enhance their quality of life.

Commenting on the study's findings - which have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association - Clare Walton, research communications manager at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Researchers have a few theories as to how hearing loss could feed into dementia risk.

"This includes the theory that the brain is diverting important resources from other areas in order to fully understand and process sounds or that hearing loss can lead to increased social isolation. Further work is needed to find out whether any of these theories are true."

Written by James Puckle

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