Increased dementia risk due to hearing loss

Using hearing aids may lower dementia risk in older adults with hearing loss.

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People with difficulty hearing use more brain energy to listen, affecting their ability to think and solve problems. A recent study with data from over half a million people by researchers at the University of Southern Denmark shows a connection between hearing loss and the risk of developing dementia. This study is the biggest of its kind so far.

The growing number of people with dementia is primarily because of an aging population. Other factors like lifestyle and hearing also play a role. Our more extensive study, led by Assistant Professor Manuella Lech Cantuaria at the University of Southern Denmark, confirms the connection between hearing loss and dementia identified in earlier research.

People with hearing loss face up to a 13% higher risk of developing dementia, especially those with severe hearing impairment, according to our study. In Denmark, around 800,000 people have hearing loss, a number expected to rise due to aging and increased noise exposure. 

Hearing loss, measured in decibels, ranges from difficulty hearing everyday speech to being unable to hear shouting at levels above 60-70 dB and 90-100 dB, respectively. Dementia, a decline in mental abilities, includes symptoms like memory loss, concentration issues, orientation problems, language disorders, and personality changes, with Alzheimer’s being one type of dementia.

The researchers examined whether wearing hearing aids made a difference in dementia risk. They discovered that those who didn’t use hearing aids had a 20% higher risk of developing dementia compared to those with normal hearing. However, people using hearing aids had only a 6% increased risk. This indicates that wearing a hearing aid might help prevent or delay the onset of dementia, as explained by Manuella Lech Cantuaria.

The study, known as a cohort study, tracked a group of people with common characteristics for an extended period. The participants, all aged 50 and above from the Region of Southern Denmark between 2003–2017, did not include those diagnosed with dementia before the study began. 

By comparing hearing data with dementia development, the researchers found a significant link between hearing loss and dementia. The highest risk was observed in those with severe hearing loss, causing a 7% increased risk overall and up to a 20% higher risk for severe cases than those without hearing loss.

In conclusion, this research provides substantial evidence supporting the notion that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of dementia. The findings underline the importance of addressing hearing health as a preventive measure against dementia.

Journal reference:

  1. Manuella Lech Cantuaria, Ellen Raben Pedersen, et al., Hearing Loss, Hearing Aid Use, and Risk of Dementia in Older Adults. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. DOI: 10.1001/jamaoto.2023.3509.

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