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December 7, 2020

Hearing Aids May Reduce Dementia Risk. Here’s How

To be in control of your mental health is a powerful thing. Although much is still unknown about the causes of cognitive decline and dementia, researchers have grouped 40% of the risks into 12 factors that you can personally address.

Of the 12 potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia, the 2020 Lancet Report identified hearing loss as the largest risk factor that you can do something about.

Other modifiable risk factors for dementia are less education, hypertension, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, low social contact, excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury and air pollution.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a loss in cognitive functioning, (such as thinking, remembering, reasoning,) and behavioural abilities that interfere with your daily life. Dementia is a general term for declining cognitive abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia.

Dementia can have a compounding affect on your health. Sufferers have more hospital admissions than other older people, even for illnesses that could otherwise be manageable at home.

Those with dementia have also disproportionately died during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitalizations during the pandemic could be more distressing, and although dementia sufferers need more care, it can be harder for them to access and organize the care they need due to their condition.

man looking worried

How is hearing loss linked to dementia?

Here are some common theories explaining the link between hearing loss and dementia:

1. There is a common underlying cause for both hearing loss and dementia.

In some studies, there were common genetic markers or underlying conditions in those who had dementia versus those who did not. Although the results are not definitive, improved care has made the 90 plus demographic the fastest growing population, providing an opportunity for researchers to study potential underlying causes with a wider test group.

2. There is a lack of sound-related input, leading to brain shrinkage.

Difficulty hearing can impair brain function by keeping people socially isolated and inadequately stimulated by aural input. The harder it is for the brain to process sound, the more it works to understand what it hears, reducing its ability to perform other cognitive tasks.

3. Hearing loss leads to cognitive impairment.

People must engage more brain resources to compensate for hearing loss, so those resources become unavailable for other tasks.

Whichever the cause, research shows that the greater the hearing loss, the greater the dementia risk. In fact, there is a noted increased dementia risk per 10 decibels of hearing loss.

With the body of research on the link between hearing loss and dementia growing, we should emphasize our hearing health to ensure that those at risk are receiving the care they need.

woman with clasped hands looking into mid-distance

Hearing aids may help in the fight against dementia.

If you have hearing loss, wearing hearing aids may reduce your risk of dementia.

A 25-year prospective study of 3,777 people aged 65 years or older found more dementia cases among those with self-reported hearing problems, except those who wore hearing aids.

In a separate survey of 2,040 people older than 50 years, memory deteriorated less after hearing aid use and adjusting for other risk factors.

Beyond reducing your dementia risk, treating hearing loss early with hearing aids can help people lead a higher quality of life, stay active, and prevent the risks of untreated hearing loss, which include isolation and depression.

Hearing aids are a gateway to communication and can help facilitate a healthy and active lifestyle through all stages of life, especially in mid to later stages, when the risk for dementia increases.

As the link between dementia and hearing loss grows, HearingLife, Canada’s largest hearing healthcare provider, intends to play a leading role in dementia prevention.

The only way to confirm hearing loss is through a professional hearing test. HearingLife provides free hearing tests and risk-free hearing aid trials nationwide to get you started on your journey to better hearing.

To book a free hearing test, visit www.hearinglife.ca or call 877-767-4859.

Livingston G, Huntley J, Sommerlad A, et al. Dementia prevention,

intervention, and care. Lancet 2020; 396: 413–46.