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Hearing loss linked to future onset of dementia

Wednesday 11th July 2018
New research has indicated a clear link between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
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An incident that leads to minor hearing loss now could have severe consequences in later life, resulting in dementia. 

This was the conclusion of a study by assistant professor of speech and hearing science at The Ohio State University Yune Lee, who was working to establish how the brain reacts to simple and complex sentences. 

During the course of the study, he and his team tested the hearing of the sample group, who were all aged between 18 and 41. What was discovered was that those who had lost even small amounts of hearing displayed unusual right frontal cortex activity. This was detected by MRI scans as they measured blood flow.

Prof Lee explained that this came about due to ear damage caused by overstimulation of the whole brain. Normally, the left side processes language, while the right side "is like a car idling" and will become useful more in later life. However, the excess noise stimulation causes cognitive wear and tear in the right side sooner and this makes dementia more likely to develop in later life. 

He remarked: "People with hearing loss may put so much effort into listening that they start to drain their cognitive resources that could be otherwise used for memory and attention.

"People with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia."

The conclusion was that young people should desist from using devices that flood their ears with loud noise, such as earphones with the music turned up to high volumes. Similarly, loud computer games could cause children to have problems, storing up trouble for the future. 

While the exact nature of the link between hearing loss and the onset of dementia in later life is not clear, the evidence would suggest that audiological treatments can make a big difference to the quality of life of those who are hard of hearing, not just in making communication easier in the here and now, but in preventing serious cognitive decline in the future. 

Written by James Puckle

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