There is an promising development that was published in the Lancet Public Health Journal, which links dementia to hearing loss. This study comes in the wake of an article published in 2020 which the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and care, suggested that 8% of dementia cases worldwide may be linked to hearing loss.
Over a span of 12 years researchers looked at data from 437,704 people taking part in the UK Biobank study. The average age of participants when the study commenced was 56, and was 68 when the study concluded.
The research showed while there was no increase risk in people with normal hearing, and people with hearing loss who used hearing aids, there was a 42% risk of all-cause dementia, in people with hearing loss who do not use hearing aids.
Experts have predicted that, globally, the number of people living with dementia by 2050 will be nearly triple what it today to 153 million. This makes dementia on of the biggest global health threats. According to the study, people who suffer hearing loss, and use hearing aids can reduce their chances of developing dementia to that of the general population.
While more insight is needed, hearing loss could be most easily managed risk factor in preventing mid-life dementia. While further research will need to be done, we also need to raise awareness to the potential of untreated hearing loss, and the increased risk of dementia. There also needs to be improvement in the access of prevention care, lowering the cost of hearing aids, and providing treatment for all members of society.
Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at University College London, Robert Howard, has been quoted as saying, “This is a large and well-conducted study, but we should always remember that association is not the same as causation. I’m sceptical that use of hearing aids can be considered to prevent dementia. It seems more plausible to me that the association reflects that individuals on their way to developing dementia struggle to take up or use hearing aids. But hearing aids are important in reducing isolation and increasing quality of life, so we should encourage their use anyway.”
Regardless, this research provides a deeper, and interesting insight into the cause, development of, and possible risk factors associated with hearing loss, and dementia.