Action on Hearing Loss Logo
    Total results:
    Search
      Total results:

      Why and how are dementia and hearing loss linked? Our Audiologist explains the latest research

      An international study on the link between hearing loss and dementia has attracted much attention in the last months. Due to the increasing interest and the concerns of some of our readers, Action on Hearing Loss Audiologist Specialist Vaitheki Maheswaran reviews the latest research on the topic.

      Computed Axial Tomography

      According to an international study in the Lancet, it is estimated that there were 46·8 million people living with dementia worldwide in 2015, which is likely to increase to 131·5 million by 2050. 58% of people with dementia live in low income and middle income countries. It is expected for numbers affected by dementia to double in high-income countries but more than treble in low and middle-income countries by 2050.

      This research shows that one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their brain health throughout life. Nine key risk factors thought to contribute to the risk of dementia have come to light, including: education to a maximum of age 11–12 years, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, hearing loss, late life depression, diabetes, physical inactivity, smoking, and social isolation. These risk factors, which are described as possibly modifiable (factors which can be changed to reduce dementia risk), make up 35%. The other 65% of dementia risk is thought to be potentially non-modifiable (factors which cannot be changed).

      What is the link between hearing loss and dementia?

      Over the last few years, there is growing evidence of a link between dementia/cognition and hearing loss. Hearing loss and dementia are linked with ageing and often occur together as we get older - the majority of people with dementia are over 70 and nearly three quarters of people over 70 have hearing loss. There is strong evidence that mild hearing loss doubles the risk of developing dementia, with moderate hearing loss leading to three times the risk, and severe hearing loss five times the risk. Hearing loss can be misdiagnosed as dementia or make the symptoms of dementia appear worse.

      Common symptoms of dementia:

      • Memory loss

      • Confusion (not remembering what they were saying)

      • Difficulty with thinking and decision making (should they answer the door?)

      • Decline in skills needed for everyday living (not remembering how to cook)

      • Changes in ways of communicating (not being able to find the correct word, mixing up words, or repeating what’s been said)

      Common symptoms of hearing loss:

      • Difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in group situations

      • Asking people to repeat themselves and/or speak more slowly

      • Having the volume for music/TV higher than other people need

      • Difficulty hearing the phone/doorbell

      • Finding it difficult to tell which direction noise is coming from

      • Often feeling tired or stressed, from having to concentrate while listening.

      People with dementia can have difficulty communicating with others, including finding the right words, or signs, for what they want to say. They will have difficulty processing what they’ve heard, particularly if there are distractions. According to some researchers, this difficulty in processing information (when there is competing information, auditory or otherwise) can be one of the first signs of some form of cognitive impairment.

      Further evidence suggests that proper diagnosis and management of hearing loss, including provision of hearing aids, reduce the risk and impact of dementia and some of the other associated co-morbidities, such as falls and depression.

      It is worth noting that although dementia is diagnosed in later life, changes in the brain usually start developing many years before. The study looked at the benefits of building a "cognitive reserve", meaning that if the brain’s networks were strengthened, it could continue to function in later life regardless of the damage. As discussed, lifestyle factors can play a vital role in increasing or reducing an individual's dementia risk. It is suggested that not smoking, keeping healthy, doing exercise and treating high blood pressure and diabetes can all help reduce the risk of dementia for some, as well as cardiovascular disease.
      It is important to remember that not everyone will successfully make changes; some changes will not make a difference and some risks of dementia are hereditary and cannot be changed. If you are worried about hearing loss or dementia, it is best to speak to your GP who will then refer you to the appropriate professional for further investigation, for example an audiologist or ENT Consultant for hearing difficulties.

      We recommend people get their hearing tested and, if they have hearing loss, to get hearing aids, as the evidence suggests that they can help reduce the risk of dementia and its impact.

      By: Vaitheki Maheswaran | 03 August 2017

      Recent Posts

      Our top five headphones for hearing loss

      If you, or a loved one, have hearing loss, watching TV and listening to music can be a challenge. Increasing the volume might annoy the neighbours – and doesn’t always help. A simple pair of headphones might be all you need to enjoy your favourite activities again. Check out our top five headphones for hearing loss. Buy now and enjoy 10% off until 4 October 2018.

      By: Sally Bromham
      24 September 2018

      Can brain activity tell us how well a child can hear with their cochlear implants?

      Researchers in Nottingham are developing a new way to tell how well young children and babies can hear with their implant, by looking at their brain activity. We’re funding PhD student, Faizah Mushtaq, to develop a tool that could help children with cochlear implants. Faizah tells us more about her exciting research and how you can help.

      By: Faizah Mushtaq
      18 September 2018

      Detecting sound is easy - the hard bit is getting a machine to know what it means

      Whether it’s the sound of a doorbell, or complex speech patterns, sound recognition technology will transform everyone’s lives - including people with hearing loss and deafness. Kevin Taylor, our Product Technologist, tells us more.

      By: Kevin Taylor
      17 September 2018

      Treatments for hearing loss: What’s new?

      Over 20 treatments to restore or protect hearing are currently in clinical trials. If they are successful and pass all three stages of these trials, the way we manage hearing loss could change significantly. Our Translational Research Manager, Dr Carina Santos, tells us the good news.

      By: Carina Santos
      14 September 2018

      Recent Posts

      Our top five headphones for hearing loss

      If you, or a loved one, have hearing loss, watching TV and listening to music can be a challenge. Increasing the volume might annoy the neighbours – and doesn’t always help. A simple pair of headphones might be all you need to enjoy your favourite activities again. Check out our top five headphones for hearing loss. Buy now and enjoy 10% off until 4 October 2018.

      By: Sally Bromham
      24 September 2018

      Can brain activity tell us how well a child can hear with their cochlear implants?

      Researchers in Nottingham are developing a new way to tell how well young children and babies can hear with their implant, by looking at their brain activity. We’re funding PhD student, Faizah Mushtaq, to develop a tool that could help children with cochlear implants. Faizah tells us more about her exciting research and how you can help.

      By: Faizah Mushtaq
      18 September 2018

      Detecting sound is easy - the hard bit is getting a machine to know what it means

      Whether it’s the sound of a doorbell, or complex speech patterns, sound recognition technology will transform everyone’s lives - including people with hearing loss and deafness. Kevin Taylor, our Product Technologist, tells us more.

      By: Kevin Taylor
      17 September 2018

      Treatments for hearing loss: What’s new?

      Over 20 treatments to restore or protect hearing are currently in clinical trials. If they are successful and pass all three stages of these trials, the way we manage hearing loss could change significantly. Our Translational Research Manager, Dr Carina Santos, tells us the good news.

      By: Carina Santos
      14 September 2018

      More like this

      As the largest charity for people with hearing loss in the UK, we understand how hearing loss can affect everything in your life from your relationships, to your education and...

      It’s Deaf Awareness Week 2018 from 14–20 May. Download and use our free posters, communication tips cards and fingerspelling cards to help increase deaf awareness in your office, school or...

      We're really proud of everyone who's a part of Action on Hearing Loss, and hope you'll feel inspired to become a part of our community.​