Hearing Loss and Dementia - Action On Hearing Loss: RNID
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Hearing Loss and Dementia

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.

Having hearing loss can also increase the risk of developing dementia by up to five times. It’s not clear exactly why there is a link, but evidence suggests that proper diagnosis and management of hearing loss can reduce the risk of dementia and also its impact, especially in the early stages. In particular, evidence suggests that wearing hearing aids helps, for example by improving working memory - the short term memory that we use to complete everyday tasks. Hearing aids can also help prevent some of the other risks and conditions associated with dementia, such as falls  and depression.

Communication difficulties caused by hearing loss and dementia can lead to misdiagnosis of either or both conditions. For example, hearing loss can be misdiagnosed as dementia, or make the symptoms of dementia appear worse.  Health professionals need to be aware of the association between the two, and the likelihood that they will occur together.

Why is there a link?

We know that hearing loss increases the risk of dementia in older people, but the research isn’t clear why. According to researcher Frank Lin the most likely reasons are:

  • When the cochlea sends a garbled signal to the brain, which is what happens as we develop hearing loss, the brain has to work harder to decode it. The increased ‘cognitive load’ leads to a reduction in our other cognitive and thinking abilities.

  • Hearing loss may lead to structural changes in the part of the brain that handles sound processing. The same part of the brain is also important for other cognitive function, including language and memory.

  • Hearing loss directly contributes to social isolation, which we’ve long known is a clear risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.

Where to from here?

There is a need for further research to understand the link between hearing loss and dementia and why hearing aids help.

In the meantime, 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.

 

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