Last week, a large-scale study was published that examined the connection between hearing ability and the development of dementia. For this, 437704 people without dementia aged 40-69 in the UK were asked to assess their hearing ability. Three quarters reported hearing well – one quarter reported hearing loss. Of this quarter, about 10% wore hearing aids. After about 12 years, the people were interviewed again and diagnostically questioned about the existence of dementia.
Unfortunately, dementia diseases are still incurable (FDC 2010 Spain)
It has long been known that age-related hearing loss increases the risk of dementia by approximately 8%, which was also confirmed in this study. This is the highest risk of an influenceable factor for dementia known so far. Whether this risk can be influenced was investigated in the present study: namely, it was hypothesized that wearing a hearing aid would reduce this risk and thus could serve as dementia prevention. And here is the result: patients who suffer from hearing loss and do not wear a hearing aid have a 42% increased risk of developing dementia. The study also showed that this risk was related to hearing loss, as other factors such as loneliness, social isolation and depressive symptoms hardly influenced this relationship. Incidentally, it is particularly advisable to counteract hearing loss as early as possible. Therefore, similar to wearing glasses early on to counteract vision loss, one should also start wearing a hearing aid quite early on.
Hearing loss usually starts in the higher tones, like birdsong. Unfortunately, the old hearing aids are of little use (France 2016, Maldives 1977).
However, the underlying mechanisms linking wearing hearing aids with a lower risk of dementia remain unclear. On the one hand, it could be that increasingly strenuous hearing consumes more cognitive resources, which are then no longer available for actual cognitive tasks. On the other hand, hearing loss may also lead to the loss of neurons in the auditory centres of the brain, which also affect higher brain regions and thus cause cognitive decline. Thus, hearing aids could delay cognitive decline by preventing auditory deprivation.
The cognitive loss triggered by hearing loss can spread to the whole brain, literally helping to establish the “silence” of Alzheimer’s disease (Belgium 2020; more detailed description of the stamp you find here)
Despite the positive effects, most people with hearing loss, unfortunately, do not use hearing aids. Hearing loss can begin as early as the 40s, and the prodromal phase of dementia – the phase in which dementia progresses unnoticed – also lasts 20-25 years. These findings underscore the urgent need to address hearing loss across the life course. This includes raising public awareness of the connection between “hearing and dementia,” offering screenings, but also improving access to hearing aids, and reducing their cost.
Hearing aids are hardly seen in the ears today (United Arab Emirates 1992)
Fan Jiang et al., Association between hearing aid use and all-cause and cause-specific dementia: an analysis of the UK Biobank cohort. The Lancet: Public Health; Open Access Published:April 13, 2023;