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Subtle hearing loss in young people may negatively affect brain functions

Tuesday 29th May 2018
Minor hearing loss among young people may be paving the way for a higher risk of dementia in later life, according to a new study.
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Audiologists need to be aware of the potential long-term neurodegenerative impact that subtle hearing loss can have on young people, according to a new study.

Ohio State University research has suggested that minor hearing loss sustained at a young age can place demands on the brain that would typically be expected much later in life, even if the hearing loss is so subtle that the individual is barely aware of it.

Over the course of the study, young people with minor hearing deficits saw their brain activity involved in language comprehension - which would typically be expected to take place exclusively in the left hemisphere of the brain - move to the right hemisphere as well.

As part of the natural ageing process, people generally begin to use more of their right frontal brain to process language, but in a healthy person this does not usually take place until the age of 50. The existence of this phenomenon in younger people indicates that the right side of their brain has already started compensating for the left, meaning their hearing comprehension could deteriorate further with age.

This is particularly concerning given previous research showing that people with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia, while those with moderate to severe hearing loss are three to five times as susceptible.

As such, this new study suggests that young people should be doing more to avoid activities that damage their hearing, such as listening to loud music.

Lead researcher Yune Lee, an assistant professor of speech and hearing science at Ohio State University, said: "We suspect that what happens is you put so much effort into listening you drain your cognitive resources, and that has a negative effect on your thinking and memory, and that can eventually lead to dementia.

"Letting this process happen early in your life could be like spending your retirement money when you're in your 30s. You're going to need that down the road."

Written by James Puckle

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